Her – Review by Niall Curran
The inimitable Spike Jonze returns with his first film in four years and it is well worth the wait. Superbly crafted, this is Jonze’s most accessible film, and is an unusual love story that is tender, warm, funny and enlightening without a hint of corny sentimentality.
Set in the near future, when technology is a slightly advanced version of today, it tells the story of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely and melancholy man who is employed as faceless letter writer number 612 for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com. As the name suggests, he writes handwritten letters for clients but, in a delicious touch of irony, he specialises in creating love letters.
Life for Theodore is mired in the mundane as after work, he goes home to his nondescript high-rise apartment to play video games or engage in weird online phone sex with random women in the middle of the night. His life is transformed when he sees an ad for OS1, a new artificially intelligent operating system that promises to meet his every need.
After signing up, the new operating system (voiced by Scarlet Johansen) asks Theodore some personal questions to build his profile then assumes the name Samantha and starts to help Theodore to arrange his life by sorting his hard drive and assisting in the proofreading of letters. An unsuccessful blind date with a desperate and insecure woman leads to the deepening of his relationship with Samantha as her comforting words escalate into a cyber sexual embrace.
This tentative beginning flowers into a loving relationship between Theodore and Samantha, the operating system. As a premise, it is obviously weird or as Theodore’s ex-wife (Rooney Mara) caustically describes it as him having a relationship with his laptop. But this lack of a visual or physical aspect to their relationship enables the viewer to see with great clarity how people fall in love, their yearning to discover more about each other and eagerness to help one another to grow.
Credit for this clarity must be given to Spike Jonze for his brilliant script with its engaging dialogue that makes this film one of the most insightful and accurate depictions of what Theodore’s friend Amy (Amy Adams) describes as “the socially acceptable madness of falling in love”. Beyond its examination of love and relationships, the script also has moments of great comedy when Samantha organises the visit of a surrogate sex partner or when Theodore brings Samantha on a double date with a colleague.
Scarlett Johansen’s wonderful performance as the voice of Samantha also deserves great praise for breathing life into the operating system with a warm, sensitive and seductive performance. Jaoquin Phoenix is excellent and is probably the only actor, other than the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, able to understand the nuances needed to imbue the understated role of Theodore with credibility.
Nominated for best film and best original screenplay, it should but probably won’t win both. Anyone who has ever loved or is looking for love should see this intelligent and entertaining exploration of love, relationships and how you learn until you finally get it right.