Her is a delightfully creative, sweet and refreshingly original movie from Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are), and the first that he wrote himself. Boasting two great performances, one from Joaquin Phoenix, who acts entirely alone on screen for most of the film, and one from Scarlett Johansson, who in a purely vocal turn, gives what’s probably the best performance of her career.
In a near future that’s the polar opposite of most depressing, apocalyptic futures we see in the movies, we are treated to a Utopian, pastel colored Los Angeles, where high water pants are back in style and people walk around glued to their phones and operating devices, usually talking to themselves in a crowd. The tech aspect of this future is not so hard to believe, as it’s only a slight step forward from where we are now, and many will recognize the isolation that comes with constantly being wired in. The loneliness that persists in an otherwise utopian future is a fascinating idea that Jonze hooks onto, and Phoenix plays the protagonist, Theo, as a normal, friendly, sweet guy (a change from his usual eccentric characters), who’s going through a divorce and wanting desperately to connect with someone, or something.
That connection comes with his new operating system, a device with high artificial intelligence named Samantha. Scarlett Johansson provides Samantha’s voice, and astoundingly with no visual or physical body to speak of, manages to create a fully formed, emotional, functioning person out of the OS. Samantha is in many ways the ideal woman for any man- funny, sympathetic, encouraging and programmed to cater to his every need- yet Jonze also gives Samantha feelings of insecurity, jealousy and her own intellectual desires, meant to make her more endearingly human and convince us that Theo and Samantha can actually develop a real relationship of sorts. It doesn’t require too much suspension of disbelief, since Samantha comes across so real (there are only a couple of moments where it crosses the line into silliness as you can’t entirely forget that she IS an operating system, after all), and Phoenix’s performance is so natural that you forget he’s acting almost entirely alone in every scene.
Her is a meditation on relationships in general, a very personal movie that brings up ideas about how people relate to each other and what makes one person suited to someone and not another. Amy Adams gives another great turn as Theo’s nerdy best friend whose own marriage is breaking up, and Rooney Mara is Theo’s bitter ex-wife who harbors resentments about the end of their relationship. The originality of the story is exciting to see unfold, along with the look and feel of the production design that fills out all the corners of the screen at all times. The movie may be a tad long, as the middle section drags a bit before ramping up at the end, taking Samantha’s journey to its logical conclusion. But this is a lovely romance and exploration of relationships, well worth seeing as one of the Oscar nominated films of the year.