Movie Review: ‘Her’
Directed by: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and the voice of Scarlet Johansson
Plot: A lonely writer falls for an artificial intelligence
That premise is very weird, but Spike Jonze is no stranger to the weird. After all, he is best known for his work with surreal screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, and the terribly funny and gag-inducing “Jackass” boys. It’s also a little reductive, but it needs to be said just so it can get out of the way. A geek falls for Siri, but it is much more complicated.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly living in the near future. Theodore is a writer by trade (and its implied that he is very good at it), but he has been selling his talents writing heartfelt letters for those who can’t themselves. He is also going through a pretty bad break up. His wife is divorcing him, and their relationship, as far as Theodore is willing to recall, was pretty idyllic. In this harsh time, he buys a new state-of-the-art operating system with a truly sophisticated artificial intelligence. Voiced by Scarlet Johansson, Samantha, as she names herself, is equal parts friendly and flirty. She starts off as a good-humored assistant, but their relationship becomes more and more personal in a surprisingly organic way.
In many ways, this is reminiscent of Jonze’s previous film, Where the Wild Things Are. Jonze is basically a magician. He is getting your attention with one hand while handling the trick in the the other. In this near future of high waisted pants, technology has taken over many aspects of modern life. Every location looks a little like the Apple Store but with a lot more color splashed around. Everyone is plugged in by their phone or whatever is available. Phones are smaller. Video games are bigger. To the cynics, this is their worst nightmare where technology has constricted us so badly that we now feel lonely in a crowd. That a place called “Beautiful Handwritten Letters” still dictates letters to a computer that prints text in such a way that looks handwritten. That whatever evolving technology continues to connect us is disconnecting us in equal measure. Although, Jonze doesn’t really seem to care one way or the other. Just like Where the Wild Things Are was about Max working out his emotional baggage rather than going on an adventure, Her is much more about the legitimacy of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship that technology’s hold over the human race.
This is why it is so important to get the “geek falls for Siri” shadow out of the way. As audience members, we need to believe in this romance, and Jonze gets us to do that. He doesn’t force it on us. He doesn’t demand that we just do it. He invites us, and we go willingly into the following whirlwind of feelings. As Theodore, Phoenix is engaging. He embodies just about every insecurity a modern male has felt, while Johansson defies the odds and creates an organic, fully-developed character with nothing but her voice. Despite all the sci-fi trappings in the premise, Jonze and his cast will have you asking more questions about intimacy then whether or not the phone in your pocket is holding you back.