Film Review: Her

by Chad Liffmann on December 25, 2013

Cyber love is a many-splendored thing!

A future where someone looking like this (above) isn't creepy.

A future where someone looking like this (above) isn’t creepy.

Spike Jonze has delivered a cinematic gem once again, this time in the form of the incredibly touching, heartfelt, and honest, Her.  Her marks the first time Jonze has been the sole writer of one of his directorial efforts, and his remarkable talent is on full display.  There’s a lot of perspective and emotions to be gained from this simple story about the romantic relationship developed between a lonely writer and an operating system.  There are a lot of things that could’ve gone wrong, too, but all are avoided.  First and foremost, the glue that manages to bind all the odd and challenging (and borderline creepy) pieces together is its believability.  Thanks to Jonze’s poignant script and memorable performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, Her bridges the gap between what we fear technology may become and an ideal version of what technology could accomplish, presented in the form of a romance more sincere than most romances dare to be.

Phoenix is Theodore, a lonesome, red shirt wearing writer of other people’s personal letters.  We’re introduced to Theodore at his job, which immediately provides great insight into Theodore’s poetic soulfulness, in the context of a society that suffers from detached romantic intimacies.  This isn’t to say that Her makes any bold assertions about the evolving relationship between technology and romance.  On the contrary, Her offers us a scenario in which we feel for all the characters involved, human and A.I.  There are a few global truths that we all take into a viewing of Her — 1) there is a lot of heartbreak in this world  2) many people are lonely and will search for soulmates however possible, and  3) technology continues to become an extension of ourselves.  So, when Theodore picks up the new revolutionary operating system (OS) in a last ditch effort to find a companion, it makes sense to us.

The words and tone of Samantha, the name the OS gives itself, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, were very carefully crafted (NOTE: This is a fun conversation topic amongst friends — who’s voice would you choose as your romantic OS partner?).  Johansson may not be everyone’s first choice, but as Samantha’s diction and personality take shape, we can clearly tell that she’s molded to fit Theodore’s innermost wishes.  Johansson nails every emotional inflection, so much so that I would dare argue that her voice work here is absolutely award-worthy.  Anyway, I won’t spoil the fun involved with watching this touching relationship grow…

Hopefully rent prices have gone down considerably in the we can all afford this.

Hopefully rent prices have gone down considerably in the future…so we can all afford this.

…But I will say that the moments that are borderline creepy, or challenge our comfortability with such a foreseeable future, are part of the fun.  Thus, Her is also quite hilarious.  It’s self aware without being snarky.  It presents oddities as acceptable characteristics of life, including Theodore’s vibrant wardrobe.  If Her were shot differently, without the soft glow of the Los Angeles cityscape backdrop, or if the film didn’t have Arcade Fire’s atmospheric and romantic musical score, it would be unlikely to elicit its desired effect.  This, again, goes back to ‘believability.’  The film’s quiet tone, its colors and pace, and its sense of time and place, work together towards inviting us to believe that a story like this can (and will) happen.  If you’re a hopeless romantic like me, you’ll hope that it does.  Her is both sad and joyous, and its tenderness will have a lasting effect.  I might as well come out and say it…Her is the most romantic movie of the year.  Believe me.


Her opens in Bay Area theaters December 25, 2013.

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