By Gary Murray

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson

Written and directed by Spike Jonze

Running time 125 min

MPAA Rating R

Selig Film Rating Matinee


Spike Jonze is the director behind such films as Where the Wild Things Are, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich.  He has also done many music videos and shorts over a career that has spanned decades.  His latest film Her is also his most accessible to the masses.

The tale of Her takes place in the near future and is of a lonely man Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix).  He is a letter writer for a company in LA.  Crafting the personal thoughts of others, Theodore expresses attitudes for strangers and adds personal details to what are basically form letters. 

His wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) has recently left.  She was his childhood sweetheart and the only true love of his life.   He spends his days wallowing in other’s lives and his nights in solitude playing video games. 

He buys a new operating system for his futuristic smart phone.  The technology has become so advanced that it seems the computer has a personality.  The system names itself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).  The system has the ability to learn and anticipate the wants of the user.  Very slowly, Theodore and Samantha bond as friends. 

Theodore finds that he can share his thoughts and feelings much better to his computer than a real person.  He has a date with a live woman (Olivia Wilde) that goes disastrously.  He is still hung up over Catherine and is just not ready for a real woman.

Eventually, Theodore finds that he is in love with his operating system and his operating system is falling in love with him.  This presents a problem since she is not ‘real’ and has no physical body.   The film is about the ups and down of this relationship and what constitutes a real person—is it a physical body or just intelligence? 

Her very intelligently poses a scenario that is definitely a part of our future.  The newest I-Phone talks to you with a female voice.  It has been said that future phones will have the ability to anticipate and learn about the user.  And, as we have seen with a certain Notre Dame Football star, a person can fall in love with a fictitious person in a ‘catfish’ scam.   Logically, this futuristic situation is within our collective grasp.

The other question Her brings up is what exactly makes up a person.  Is it the physical body or the intellectual matrix?  There are people who have the imagination of a slug while Wilson the computer destroyed on Jeopardy then moved on to working in the medical world.   The better the computer operating systems get, the more of a challenge of what is consciousness consists of—is it physical, emotional or intellectual?

Spike Jonze raises more unanswered questions during Her than most film maker’s raise in a career.  But a brilliant idea does not always translate into a brilliant film.  Parts of Her are honest and insightful while other parts teeter on bad melodrama.   Like all of his works, there are always interesting elements within the work if not strong execution.

Much has been made about the performance of Scarlett Johansson in Her, giving a vocal performance but not being seen.  It is impressive but no more than all the voice actors who have graced Disney films for the last few decades. She does give heart to her inanimate object but no more so than half a dozen princess features.

Personally, the harder job was done by Joaquin Phoenix.  He has to deliver a giant palate of emotions usually to no one on the screen.  He is a broken man who is reassembled into something that is still not exactly right.  Like 99% of the people on the planet, he is yet another lost soul looking for that connection he cannot find.

Her has made many critics best of list for 2013 but I thought the film was equal parts sad and silly.  Though the ideas are interesting and the execution brilliant, much of the exercise was a bit trite.  In decades, Her will be looked at much the same that Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? is done today.  At the time it was released, it was a shock but in modern times it is much ado about nothing.  Fifty years from now, Her will not be considered that big of a deal. 

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