Her is set in the near future in Los Angeles with some Shanghai sprinkled in there to make it less familiar. Though the streets and the public metros are packed with people, they hardly notice because what consumes their interest is technology, more specifically their phones. This is how Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoneix) prefers it.
A separation with his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) has turned Theodore into a recluse. He avoids social gatherings, dating, and any sort of interaction. Things such as chatting with his best friend Amy (Amy Adams) or his co-worker Paul (Chris Pratt) come across as daunting. Theodore feels as if his life has peaked, and the world cannot offer him any new experience that could top the ones in his past. Well, that is until OS 1, the new operating system for his phone, gets introduced.
OS 1 is the first artificially intelligent operating system and is portrayed by a smooth, flirty, sexy voice called Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Though Samantha is not a physical being, her and Theodore form an unconventional, yet real romantic bond.
The premise of this movie sounds ridiculous. A guy falling in love with his phone? What is that, like a metaphor for society becoming too attached to technology? No, not necessarily.
Though that could be one of the takeaways, Spike Jonze’s (Writer/Director) film’s intent is to tell a classic love story and deliver it with a modern spin. Jonze masterfully captures all phases of the Theodore and Samantha relationship without making it feel as if it were a big joke. All aspects from the courting, the honeymoon phase, the plateau, to the drifting apart felt incredibly genuine, despite half of the couple only existing as a voice.
Where the Wild Things Are, Adaptation, and Being John Malkovich all show Jonze’s ability to put on a visual spectacle, and Her is no exception. There is almost no action for Jonze to shoot since the interaction is mostly a guy talking to his phone, but the way Theodore’s environment is captured, like the emphasis on warmer pastel colors, as well as shots of the city, make the film visually stimulating, despite the lack of physical action. I think we can argue that Jonze is a perfect 4/4 as far as directing goes.
One thing that cannot be debated is that he is 1/1 on films he has written. Her was Jonze’s first big solo writing project and it was a smashing success. As a director known for his visual styles, writing a movie that focused on the content was a bold move. The dialogue in the movie is incredible. Samantha is brought to life through her words, which is the only way this particular film works.
The script can be good, but it needs to be properly executed. First off, Joaquin Phoenix was incredible as Theodore. He was able to pull off being nerdy, pathetic, sympathetic, charming, and assholeish all at the same time. The audience sees so many different versions of Theodore during the movie, and Phoenix doesn’t miss once. The entire time I wondered how difficult it might be for Phoenix to act because literally, he is talking into a Bluetooth headset for the majority of the movie.
Actress Samantha Morton was originally the voice of Samantha, but was changed to Scarlett Johansson later. I am not familiar with Samantha Morton’s work, but I think most people (especially the fellas) are familiar with Johansson. She is drop dead gorgeous, but unfortunately she isn’t seen once in the film. However, knowing that she owns that flirty, sultry voice that is Samantha makes it easier to fathom a relationship with her. I really was impressed with Johansson because her greatest assets are of the physical nature and opting for a role that is voice only is a huge step towards her growth as an actress. At times she is a little overly dramatic in the interactions with Theodore, but the fact that she is an OS, learning about humans and their tendencies, she gets a pass. Hell, she’s Scarlett Johansson, she will always get a pass from me.
The film’s primary focus is on Theodore and Samantha, but the others definitely effectively play their roles. Rooney Mara delivers in an emotional scene with Theodore as they go to lunch to sign their divorce papers. Amy Adams, as Theodore’s best friend, is the cute documentary-maker friend who accepts and supports Theodore throughout the film’s entirety. Chris Pratt is great comedic relief. And the beautiful Olivia Wilde briefly appears and gives us the weirdest conclusion to a date ever. With all these women, I cannot believe Theodore chose a phone (kidding… kind of).
Let me emphasize again this movie is so much more than a guy falls in love with his phone. It never feels too strange, minus a strange sex scene. Jonze’s greatest accomplishment is likening the relationship to ones less traditional in society. As opposed to a sci-fi fantasy relationship, it feels more like an interracial or homosexual relationship might be. A relationship that is accepted by some, yet appalling to others (as it was depicted in the movie). Just because it is not universally accepted, doesn’t mean that the people in the relationship don’t have real feelings. Her is much more about two people from opposite backgrounds and different stages in life coming together and falling in love than it is about technology dependence.
The acting, the writing, and the overall beauty of the film will not leave you disappointed. My only complaint is the length of Her, some parts felt a little repetitive, but it’s not enough to derail the film. The irony of using technology to describe human feelings and relationships is absurdly wonderful and makes this movie a must-watch.