Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Theater in Cambridge.
With as many ways to communicate as there are ways to shut ourselves off from physical human interaction, it is not difficult to imagine a future like the one shown in Her. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a sensitive writer unable to move on after his wife (Rooney Mara) leaves him. He's put off signing the divorce papers for a year. Unsatisfied with his self-isolation but unable to sate his emotional needs with actual people, he buys a new operating system that is designed to act like a human being, learning and adapting to suit the personality of its user. With a funny, flirtatious air and a seemingly genuine interest in Theodore's well-being, the self-named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) is easy to like. The two gradually find themselves in an unexpected romance, with both sides questioning the validity of their feelings and the possibility of true love with a mechanic intelligence.
At times funny and at others uncannily sad, Her is at heart a touching, relatable romance despite its futuristic premise. It isn't so hard to imagine a person falling in love with a computer, especially one as adorable as Samantha. This is definitely one of those "write about our future to comment on our present"-type of stories, with Jonze pondering the ramifications of our technology-obsessed world and our ever-changing means of interaction. Theodore is convinced he's felt all he's ever going to feel, he's lived as much as he's going to live, and it is only through a "pure", inexperienced presence like Samantha that he finds new reasons to keep on going, new ways of thinking and feeling. Their conversations are interesting for their blend of realistic banter and inhuman considerations, and it is Samantha's constant evolution that ultimately becomes the major factor in their relationship. She surpasses Theodore in sweeping, indefinable ways, so much so that she cannot even find the language to communicate with him anymore.
The film moves from eccentric love story to existential drama in its last act, and while I found that aspect of it fascinating, it didn't quite fit with the rest of the film. The pacing is strange all over, skipping ahead at some points and moving laboriously slowly at others, so that by the time it made its thematic switch I actually thought the movie was about over. Maybe if there had been less of a focus on Sad-Sack Theodore listening to depressing music and feeling sorry for himself (though I understand the character is something of a parody of that archetype), and more of Samantha being a genius renegade computer or whatever, it would have flowed more smoothly for me. Also while I'm thinking about its negatives let me point out that Her has a definite case of white-people-itis, as if future Los Angeles would be so fucking homogenous? As if it is now? Come on. Get your shit together, Spike Jonze and also most other filmmakers. I do think the high-waisted pants and hipster mustaches were good trend-spotting, though. Definitely our future fashion.
Overall I did find Her a really intriguing, and even moving, film. It's funny and well-written, with a fantastic cast and surprisingly sweet love story. Of course I loved Johansson's endearing vocal performance as Samantha, as she so fully embodied this form-less character and gave her a very real personality. Phoenix and Mara are strong as well, though I was hard-put to believe they "grew up together" when she's so clearly at least 10 years younger than him. Whatever. My favorite was actually Amy Adams, in a supporting role as Theodore's friend who, after a rough divorce, also gets a smart OS that ends up becoming her best friend. I like Adams in general, but I think this is the most down-to-earth I've really seen her, and I just connected with her performance and character. I kind of want a side-movie all about her friendship with her computer, actually. Let's do that.
Pair This Movie With: A sad mustachioed man falling in love with an artificial woman naturally reminded me of Lars and the Real Girl, which I liked. At the end it gets kind of Blade Runner-y in its themes, so that works too.