Spike Jonze’s Her Upgrades to Tomorrow’s Romance with Tech
There’s nothing wrong to admit to being addicted to technology? After all, who now isn’t checking their phones minute by minute, anxiously waiting for that new text, tweet or update. Is it really a surprise that we’re becoming more and more detached from face-to-face interaction and more dependent on evolving gadgetry?
Director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) has dedicated his latest sci-fi drama, Her into a provocative social commentary on the subject. Like his previous films, Jonze grabs the ring of ambitious filmmaking with this high-concept premise of finding romantic solace in a computer. After deciphering Her, Siri might get a tad jealous.
Joaquin Phoenix tackles one of his most complicated roles of his career in Her. As the introverted Theodore Twombly, Phoenix brings to life a lonely letter writer for correspondence website, BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com. But as talented as he is at composing romantic thoughts on e-paper, Theodore is fraught with his own relationship issues – primarily his divorce proceedings to his ex Catherine (Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
Easing the pain of this difficult transition, Theodore purchases a personalized operating system capable of evolving artificial intelligence. With a few voice commands, the OS assumes the role of Samantha (voiced by the sensual Scarlett Johansson). Theodore and Samantha’s “relationship” kicks off as little more than mutual fascination. At first, Theodore finds the exchanges awkward, carrying on a full conversation with empty space. But as he grows more accustomed to Samantha’s presence, the bond blossoms into a compelling romance.
Props certainly go to Phoenix for carrying the weight of this one-man show onscreen. Roughly 80% of Her is Phoenix conversing with an intangible Samantha. And it’s not without such convincing interpretation of the Jonze’s lines of dialogue that Phoenix draws audiences into this unconventional tale of love.
Scarlett Johansson is equally a delight, voicing OS Samantha. Partway through production, Johansson replaced actress Samantha Morton as the vocal role of Samantha. As an talented of an actress as Morton is, Johansson sensually imprints her own personality upon what’s essentially 0s and 1s. We can’t see her or touch her, but she’s as authentic as any of the few flesh-and-blood characters in Her.
At one point in Her, Samantha explores her sexual desires with Theodore. The notion is amusing at first that this particular computer longs for sex. Still Jonze grounds the awkward situation courtesy of a brief injection of a silent surrogate for Samantha (Portia Doubleday, Carrie). Ironically, Theodore fantasizes about sex with something he can’t physically touch, but when it’s time to make love to Samantha’s “body,” he struggles.
While the relationship between Theodore and Samantha is a fascinating testament to love taking any form, Jonze exhausts a glacial running time to convey his intentions. Her clocks in at over two hours – 10-15 minutes of padded asides. But considering the original running time for Her was close to 150 minutes, trudging through a few extra minutes of character development isn’t too laborious.
Amy Adams (American Hustle) weaves in and out of the plot as Theodore’s only friend, and Olivia Wilde (Rush) enters the scene for Theodore’s brief attempt at human-human dating. Unlike Samantha, Adams’ Amy maintains a platonic relationship with Theodore, hammering home the fact that’s the closet he’ll allow any person to come in contact to his mending heart.
Even with the futuristic backdrop and quirky romance, Her tinkers with the age-old notions of falling in love, heartbreak and what it means to be human.
The undated future of Her is hauntingly plausible. When precisely? No one in Her indulges or even alludes to pinpointing down a date. Outside the AI advancement of Samantha, and Theodore’s virtual gaming system featuring a foul-mouthed alien avatar, the tech aspect refreshingly won’t overwhelm audiences, rather remains a muted undercurrent of world-building.
It’s a relief to finally watch an AI that’s not out to kill (Skynet, HAL 9000), but to love. If that’s treading on sappy nerdy waters, then that’s what it is. Her does a splendid job warming the old heart with an inventive gamble. Technology and romance do mix.
GRADE: A- (4.5/5)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Matt Marshall is a YouTube movie reviewer who hosts MNMreviews. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.