Movie Review: Her
Is it farfetched? Sure. But then again, so were smartphones and tablets when we grew up. And Siri must have been a real person.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a letter-writer for hire. He writes letters for a living, for those who aren’t capable or willing to write them to their loved ones. A lonely soul, he pours his heart into and loves vicariously through these letters.
One day he sees a commercial for an artificial intelligence, an operating system (OS) with “consciousness,” and he decides to get one. Meet Samantha (voiceover by Scarlett Johansson, “The Avengers,” “Iron Man 2”). That’s how the OS names herself.
Initially Samantha is just there to help organize Theodore’s life and make him more efficient. A machine with a hyper-level of awareness, Samantha is intuitive and perceptive. As she interacts further with Theodore, she learns more and more about him, forms her own thoughts and feelings, and responds accordingly. Like a child, she’s excited and curious about life. She grows and matures, and continues to adapt based on what she experiences with Theodore. Theodore takes her out on “dates,” having the device (Samantha) peeked out from his front pocket, so that she could see the world.
Theodore and Samantha talk about anything and everything. They share intimacy, just like a real couple does, with the obvious limitation of Samantha having no physical body. The relationship, as weird as it sounds, is surprisingly organic.
Meanwhile, Theodore becomes less passionate about his job as he’s going through a tough separation from his, wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara, “Side Effects,” “The Social Network“). A series of flashbacks shows their relationships from earlier, happy times to drifting apart and heartbreak. Catherine accuses Theodore of always wanting a wife, but without the complications of the relationship. Theodore’s neighbor and friend, Amy (Amy Adams, “American Hustle,” “Man of Steel”) is also going through a marriage breakup, which may just prove the point that human relationships are hard. But relationship with an OS is not without challenges either, especially when the OS starts taking human characteristics, yet its non-human capability continues to evolve rapidly.
Set in a not-too-distant future, the Los Angeles setting looks like the city we know, but with the addition of Shanghai skyscrapers, and its occupants continuously and exclusively occupied with their own OS, further isolating themselves even in the crowds. In some ways, we’re already there. The film has a distinct visual style, high-tech modern with a retro feel. Theodore’s bright-colored shirts really pop against the muted, soft-filtered cityscape. The clothes look like ours, with the exception of men wearing high-waisted pants. The music helps make the movie. The “piano-piece” serenades the heart. Despite one awkward sequence that goes on too long and and an abrupt wrap-up, the film is wholeheartedly believable, which can be attributed to its overall strong script.
Phoenix displays dead-on, highly expressive facial expressions. There are tons of extreme close-ups, zooming in on his face as he chats with an unseen “being.” He seems genuinely vulnerable, like an open book colored with a myriad of emotions. Much as the heavily praised “Gravity” is Sandra Bullock’s film, this is Phoenix’s. Not to discount Johansson’s role; her voice, slightly raspy, but warm, imbues Samantha with sweetness and playfulness, wit and curiosity. Samantha feels like a real person, engaging and with personality.
Conceptually unusual with the sci-fi element, director and writer Spike Jonze makes “Her” a story about humans’ fundamental need to connect and love. Bizarre and the beautiful, it works.
Copyright (c) 2014. Nathalia Aryani.
Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic (rottentomatoes.com/critic/nathalia-aryani). She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.