“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel, and from here on out I’m not gonna feel anything new… just… lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”
It is Joaquin Phoenix’s main character in Her that utters these words and he along with most of the human and not human characters seem to feel that way. They are all proven wrong eventually in this strangely romantic tale from Spike Jonze, a visionary director working off his own highly creative screenplay.
Set in the likely not too distant future, Her focuses on Theodore Twombly (Phoenix), who is surrounded by love all day in the form of his job as a composer of heartfelt letters that he’s hired to develop for others. In his real life, there is a severe lack of the emotion that earns him his living. He’s long separated from his wife (Rooney Mara) and not able to bring himself to sign divorce papers.
His lonely existence leads him to purchase an operating system (or OS) that is designed to adapt to their owner. His OS comes in the form of Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johannson) and her existence in Theodore’s life becomes serious very quickly. The artificial intelligence that OS’s can develop turns out to be more than either Theodore or Samantha could possibly expect and they fall in love.
Her has a lot to say about the human race’s constantly increasing reliance on technology, but more to say about our need for companionship and love. If the concept of a person falling love with their computer had been made 20 or 10 or even 5 years ago, it would’ve have felt like true science fiction. This film doesn’t feel that way and it’s a massive credit to Jonze for steeping Her in relative realism. The characters surrounding Theodore are not horrified or even that surprised of his love for Samantha and neither are we as an audience.
Those characters surrounding Theodore include his friend Amy (Amy Adams), who is going through her own divorce. Unlike Samantha, Mara as the ex-wife is seen a lot through flashbacks but only heard from in one scene where the childhood sweethearts finalize the end of their journey together.
Yet this film belongs to Phoenix and Johannson. Ever since his bizarre and planned meltdown from a few years back, Phoenix has gone a long way in reminding us that he’s one of his generation’s greatest actors. After his amazing turn in 2012’s The Master, his performance here is equally masterful. Johannson is never seen, but her voice work is terrific. Simply put, if their performances and Jonze’s screenplay didn’t convince you of their true love for each other, Her would fall apart. It does the opposite. And as their relationship becomes more complicated (as real relationships always do), we buy where Jonze takes us every step of the way.
Through Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and (to a lesser degree) Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze has delivered each time he steps behind the camera. For his two greatest pics (Malkovich, Adaptation), he had the help of brilliant screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. It is with Her that he proves his writing matches his direction.
***1/2 (out of four)