Her is the movie that has been summed up, both correctly and incorrectly, as . . . . . . . . man falls in love with a Siri-alike. It’s from Spike Jonze, who both directed and wrote this one, and sits perfectly alongside most of his other movies, films that tend to mix the quirky with an emotional core that allows the material to resonate, despite the potential to distance viewers.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a man who works as a letter writer, passing along messages to people from their loved ones. He invests his writing with a great deal of personal detail and emotional content, but then heads home to a pretty lonely, miserable existence in which he seems to find a small amount of pleasure, or at least distraction, in modern technology, be it in the form of videogames, online chat with strangers or just checking through his emails. When a new Operating System is launched, Theodore picks it up straight away. The OS ends up being named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), and also ends up developing into perhaps the ideal woman for Theodore.
There’s a lot to like in Her, and a lot to make you think, with a brilliant lead performance from Phoenix, a great vocal turn from Johansson, and solid turns from Amy Adams, Chris Pratt and Rooney Mara. In fact, Adams puts in another supporting turn so good that she’s fast becoming one of my favourite actresses (I know, I should have realised how good she is a long time ago). The pacing is sedate, but that’s quite deceptive, due to the fact that there’s so much going on, so much to process, in each and every scene. From the aesthetics to the grand ideas to the small touches in every character, this is a movie that will reward repeat viewings.
Perhaps the best aspect of the movie, however, is just how Jonze takes the premise and makes it so easy to believe in. Although it’s not actually just a film about a man falling in love with the Operating System on his phone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . it kind of IS. That would be laughable if handled incorrectly, but this is actually handled so well that viewers feel for Theodore AND Samantha, two individuals who are struggling to deal with both their own issues and the ups and downs of a relationship. It keeps everything removed from sci-fi, despite the advanced technology shown onscreen, and focuses on the potential for romance and intimacy in a world that allows people to connect easier than ever while also keeping everything and everyone at arm’s length.
There are cinematic failings – things develop too easily and quickly, even in the context of the near-future being shown, and none of the main characters have much variety in their personalities – but these are minor niggles and it’s worth noting that I’ve not really seen these criticisms mentioned by other people who have fallen in love with the movie. So, as can sometimes happen, maybe it’s just me.
My rating here is a minimum, an indicator of my first reaction to a movie that may well take me a further half a dozen viewings to fully process. If you catch this in the cinema then, love or hate it, you’re at least guaranteed to have plenty to discuss after the end credits roll.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: SPIKE JONZE
STARS: JOAQUIN PHOENIX, AMY ADAMS, SCARLETT JOHANSSON (VOICE), CHRIS PRATT, ROONEY MARA
RUNTIME: 126 MINS APPROX