Movie Review: Her

Her (2013)
126 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara

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Grade: A

Spike Jonze never shies away from tackling projects that are challenging, unique, and risky. His most recent attempt is a film that surrounds itself with many romantic questions. The simplest of them is, what is love? When you pull the layers back you are face to face with questions like, what constitutes a real relationship? Sure, most romantic comedies ask these questions and offer up a Hollywood ending to the characters falling in love. But in the slightly futuristic world of Her, you can fall in love with an operating system. Or can you?

Theodore (Phoenix) is dealing with a divorce from his best friend and has been keeping to himself in a stubborn, lonely way. But he has a big heart and it’s put to good use at his job where he writes letters to clients’ loved ones, making it as heartfelt and genuine as possible for people he doesn’t know. He doesn’t truly wake up from his post-breakup coma until he meets Samantha. She’s the operating system that is paired up to Theodore once the new technology is revealed. She’s like a mix between Apple’s Siri and online dating, as she’s able to answer any questions Theodore asks her, but she speaks and acts like a person from a dating site with a real personality. To some, Samantha is only a computer program but to Theodore, she’s the real thing.

Her never considers the set-up a joke. It reminded me of Lars and the Real Girl with the online ordered sex-doll that Ryan Gosling passes off as his girlfriend. Here, Theodore becomes close with Samantha, closer than he’s ever felt since his wife (Mara). But is it real? That’s a question that Theodore and even Samantha asks. She’s just an artificial intelligence program, but she’s evolving and learning like any real person would. Does that make the feelings Theodore shares any less real? How could feelings be faked?

Jonze’s screenplay and direction gives Her just what it needs to be one of the most emotionally engaging films of the year. The conversations between Theodore and his operating system peak into the window of true romance and real feelings. This feat alone is something to marvel at. Joaquin Phoenix gives Theodore the vulnerability he needs to make every scene work. He’s quiet but with a lot to say. He craves human interaction, but isn’t entirely desperate. Phoenix injects the character with the kindness he needs for everyone to relate with and to feel for.

Not to be out-done, Scarlett Johansson gives a great voice-over performance as Samantha. With her natural raspy voice, she gives Samantha the playfulness that comes off attractive and inviting. She flirts with her frequent laughter and whispers during the most intimate encounters, as if she’s mouthing something right into your ear. All of these attributes add up and it’s easy to understand how someone like Theodore could fall for her.

While it’s easy to put Her into a romantic comedy genre, that doesn’t do it justice. Sure, at the surface it’s a coming-of-age film of a guy re-evaluating his life since he’s been heart-broken, and finding new ways to enjoy the world he lives in. But it’s also a commentary on the current technological world that is only growing to be more dependent on gadgets and further away from real human connection. The scenes that show hordes of people walking on the streets, talking with a bud in their ear and their eyes on their phone… sound familiar?

We’re all looking for that perfect match, and too often people resort to computers for doing the work for them. Dating sites try to match you up based on a lengthy survey. And has communicating in-person become completely invalid with texting, emailing, and phone calls? I’m not sure how the current generation can go without these crucial moments of learning simple communication skills with these distractions, but if Theodore can take something good out of his situation, then I guess there’s still hope for everyone. Plus, it all comes down to just finding that someone to share your life with. Who cares if a computer helps or not. Does it make it any less real?

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