The beautiful but creepy Her doesn't fill us with joy, and that's probably the point.
I'm sure you've heard this one before: poor dude loses his marriage, falls in love with the perfect woman, but ultimately loses her. Now, add the fact that the 'perfect woman' isn't one at all, but a computer OS: that's the twist in the science-fiction oddity Her, a film that's uncomfortable to watch and leaves us no better than we were at the beginning.
Set in a undetermined future, professional letter writer Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is recently divorced and a loner. His world soon changes when he falls for the new operating system of his computer (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), whose quirky laugh and sultrily pleasant voice is the perfect medicine for Theodore's aching heart. Soon, Theodore and Samantha (she's named herself by the way) are taking long walks on the beach and sharing intimacy in a way that's both funny and uncomfortable. But just like those Star Trek: The Original Series episodes, the young computer soon matures, feeling sadness, anger, and jealousy. When their relationship hits the skids, Samantha makes a bold decision, forcing Theodore to reevaluate his life choices.
Director Spike Jonze does paint beautifully surreal futurism here, but it's the Writer Jonze that I've never liked. Established as more satire than some sort of distopian version of a book I read as a kid, Her tries to issue a warning about the seductiveness of technology to isolate people from the messiness and complexity of human emotions. But, the result here is too creepy, with what appears to be a sane educated person doing remarkably idiotic things for a being who only exists as a series of 1's and 0's. We can't get behind Theodore's pain, even though they're brought out admirably by Phoenix, because those emotions seem so disconnected from reality. In the end, his 'affection' for Samantha feels like he's losing his grip on reality, undoing any empathy we might have for him. Theodore's disheveled neighbor Amy (Amy Adams) disappears through large stretches of the film before finally coming up for air long enough to realize that she too has been 'left' by her OS. Amy's story of failed relationships just makes her look like a bad judge of character instead of someone that Theodore might care about as we fade to black.
Her certainly wasn't as boring as Where the Wild Things Are or Being John Malkovich - in both cases, I simply couldn't get through them. The only reasons why we stick around for Her is to see whether Samantha will evolve and how such changes affect Theodore. The exodus of the OS's into...wherever they go...is the payoff to our time invested, but what we're left with is an emptiness that our screen actors seem unable to fathom. Perhaps that feeling of loneliness is indicative of human relationships when one ends, but short of a book deal, Theodore is no better for the experience. This lack of highlighting the right character (Theodore instead of Samantha) is the wrong path to take and what ultimately kills the film.
It's easy to drink the Kool-Aid that critics are serving up here, but we're not buying it. Her is oddly suited, uncomfortable for long stretches, and feels like a stinging critique on a society quickly moving towards technological isolationism. Viewed through those lenses, any love we have for our characters is lost to fits of yelling 'She's an OS!' at the screen. If the events in Jonze's movie are in fact the wave of the future, then perhaps it's time we put down our personal devices and get back to face-to-face relationships. At least there, we can feel better about the weirdness of human interactions rather than the electronic ones depicted here. Her is rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity and has a runtime of 125 minutes.
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