Director Spike Jonze is known for his visually vivid films with quirky stories, including “Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation”, and the dark, big screen version of the children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are”. In his latest, the futuristic romantic drama “Her”, Joaquin Phoenix stars as Theodore, a successful greeting cards writer who’s just getting over a divorce. He’s looking to start a new relationship and soon finds one, and begins to fall in love again.
The hook of “Her” is that Samantha, this new love interest, isn’t a real person. She’s a computer operating system. And Samantha doesn’t simply respond to Theodore’s every command, in this futuristic world she has the ability to interact with Theodore and have real, human conversations with him. She can “see” him and the two can share their thoughts, feelings, and lives. Quickly this relationship grows past the man and machine stage and Samantha is able to assist Theodore in daily activities and meet his emotional needs, once again giving purpose to his life.
Now I know what you’re probably thinking that this concept is too far out there and nothing more than a gimmick.” And in some ways it is. “Her” is basically an exercise in how far humans can go to love someone. Jonze presents the up and down stages in Theodore and Samantha’s relationship that are common in human relationships, shown in a slightly different perspective. He addresses real issues, but very little of what’s revealed is new or enlightening.
Scarlett Johansson voices Samantha. Some of the conversations between her and the emotionally fragile Theodore are effective, while others are very forced. At times Johansson, who was brought into the project very late, over-exaggerates dialogue that makes these scenes feel even more distant than they already are. This wasn’t an easy task for the actress – having to develop a real, three dimensional character simply with her voice. Warner Bros. pushed Johansson for a Best Supporting Actress consideration, but she only received a Critics Choice Awards nomination.
For me the best scenes in “Her” involve Phoenix and the female co-stars we actually get to see, led by Amy Adams, who is very good as Theodore’s longtime friend. Olivia Wilde appears briefly as a blind date, and Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) is excellent as ex-wife Catherine, who is mostly shown in flashback, but also has a great scene late in the film. Chris Pratt (“Parks and Recreation”) plays Theodore’s boss.
There are some light, humorous moments in “Her”, where Jonze is able to poke fun at modern technology and its effect on relationships, and where that could lead. The film also takes itself very seriously with its central story, and takes a few interesting turns in the second half. However, “Her” never wows. I never became truly invested in the characters or their situation, and the ending leaves you with a weird emotional after-taste. Jonze is able to show that Theodore and Samantha can have the same relationship problems that regular, human partners have. As for anything deeper, I’m not so sure.
“Her” is rated R for language, adult content and nudity. It’s appropriate for older teens and up. This is a solid, “nice try” movie, that’s both too wacky and too predictable.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Her” gets a C+.