Movie Review: Her

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A lonely man falls in love with the artificial intelligence of his operating system.

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Spike Jonze, 2013

After his marriage breaks down, letter writer Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) gets into a funk. He sees less of his friends, including documentary filmmaker Amy (Amy Adams), and finds less pleasure in everything. Everything changes when he buys the brand new operating system, created with an artificial intelligence system. His AI names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johanson), and the two begin a friendship that develops into a relationship. Samantha develops though her interactions with Theodore, and Theodore rediscovers joy in the world. Around Theodore, the rest of the world starts to adjust to people’s new relationships with their AIs.

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Spike Jonze has put together a very pretty, thoughtful movie with Her. It’s beautifully shot, if a little what my film professors called “lyrical” – long shots of people thinking in front of pretty backgrounds. The camerawork is mostly handheld, giving the film a drifty, personal look. The design of Jonze’s future is peculiar, with high-waisted pants in fashion (though he nailed the awkward facial hair fashion) and the technology upgraded in fairly simple and understandable ways from what we have now (much more vocal interaction, Siri-style). The range of reactions to Theodore’s new relationship is nicely believable – he’s not a pariah, he’s just someone in an unusual relationship that people need to adjust to. Some are more accepting than others, and his ex-wife Katherine (Rooney Mara) is understandably the most negative about it. Flashbacks to their relationship paint a sort of impressionist painting of their time together, giving us pieces of a puzzle that no longer fit together. She gets a pretty thankless role, though she isn’t painted entirely as a villain. There are no villains in this film, only questions of what makes us human and whether that can be created virtually. The obstacles to their happiness are organic and believable.

Scarlett Johansson’s performance is spectacular, particularly considering the fact that she never appears in person on-screen. Her voice is captivating and inviting, and it’s easy to see how Theodore could fall in love with her voice alone. Joaquin Phoenix is good as the unassuming Theodore, walking the very fine line of making Theodore relatable rather than creepy in his inability to connect. His job as a professional writer of personal letters is interesting, and gives us an insight into Theodore’s heart and underlying sensitivity. Amy Adams is low-key in a role that I would happily watch a whole movie about. Her arc is a fantastic journey of self-discovery, and it complements Theodore’s well. The subject matter is handled deftly, though ultimately Samantha’s own self-discovery comes on with speed. Though this may seem like an odd quibble, it seems like Samantha as a character is underserved by the ending, which feels rushed compared to the lackadaisical pace of the rest of the film. It’s certainly a unique film, artistically and thematically, but it’ll test your patience.

Her on IMDb

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