“Never once does Her strike the forced phoniness that plagues any given Katherine Heigl romantic comedy…”
As someone who has had a crush on the iPhone’s Siri (and maybe even asked her an inappropriate question or two), it was with great interest (and some trepidation) that I approached director Spike Jonze’s film Her.
As a fan of his previous work (even back to his music video days as well as his ties with the Jackass crew), I knew he could stylistically pull it off. But how could he create a legitimate look into a man falling in love with a computerized operating system (OS) without falling into Weird Science-level comedy, or…gulp… more akin to Electric Dreams, an 80s relic which focused on a love triangle between a boy, a girl, and a computer?
But as it began to fluidly unfold, I became lost in Her early on, and was fully devoted by the final, eloquent scene. When the final credits rolled, I had witnessed one of the most touching, realistic romances of the year, on par with Blue is the Warmest Color in its authenticity and devotion to its characters… one that just happened to not exist in the same “reality” as the other.
Set in a future that I surely would like to dwell (to hell with all the Blade Runner-influenced dystopian, rain-soaked days), Her plops us into a world not entirely unlike the one today, marked only by technological advancements and curious male fashion trends (look out fellas, high-waisted grandpa pants will soon be all the rage!). We soon meet Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix), a mild-mannered writer still pining after a crumbled marriage. He works at a website that pens love letters from those who have neither the skill or courage to do so on their own accord (think of it as a personalized Hallmark). And while he can create prose of heartfelt purity for strangers, he seems unable to apply what he creates in his personal life.
He seems unable to connect with anyone aside from platonic friend Amy (played by a gorgeously deglamorized Amy Adams), a documentarian whose latest subjects include people in their sleep.
Theo happens upon a revolutionary new operating system that boasts an artificial intelligence that is not only synced to his digital world, but customizes it into a free-wheeling voice that can learn, suggest and anticipate. The system comes with a customized voice (sensing his loneliness, he’s bestowed the raspy, dulcet voice of Scarlett Johansson), and it immediately names itself “Samantha.”
Samantha begins to give structure, and soon after, meaning, to Theo’s life: deleting old files and messages, serving as a copyeditor for his work, helping him navigate video games. But, as a device that is meant to learn and grow, Samantha soon hungers to know more about the physical world that Theo inhabits.
Initially intrigued, Theo soon begins to realize how important Samantha has become to his life, and Samantha realizes just what a pure and sweet soul Theo is, and the two begin to find the very meaning of their relationship charting into strange new waters.
This may seem like a big leap for some film-goers to take, but what Jonze does is place his characters in a very simple (quasi-forbidden) love story, one marked with jealousy, dependence, desire for that which one cannot have, and acceptance.
It questions the very root of relationships and explores the necessity of connection (must it be human, or can a meaningful emotional contact suffice?). And Jonze is careful to never step too far into the abyss, wherein we leave all plausibility as an audience.
It might all fall to pieces were it not for the bold performances by both Phoenix and Johansson. His vulnerability displayed, mostly without an on-screen counterpart, is anchored in realism. And Johansson displays equal resonance without the use of her body.
Never once does Her strike the forced phoniness that plagues any given Katherine Heigl romantic comedy, and we are left with a deep, heartfelt meditation on the definitions and parameters of love. From its striking cinematography to its core story, there is not a shot within Her that does not bubble with intelligence, artificial or otherwise.
Now, where’s my iPhone?
Review by Rob Rector, Film Critic