On its surface Her shouldn’t work as a film. Joaquin Phoenix on the surface looks kind of creepy, sporting the sort of moustache and clothing you find on guys about to get caught on To Catch A Predator. It doesn’t help that Her is essentially about a guy so lonely he falls in love with the operating system on his phone (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), as he’s unable to connect in a meaningful way, including with his ex-wife (Rooney Mara). On the surface, that is, this is a film that should be sort of creepy cautionary tale about the power of technology and social media to isolate ourselves from genuine human reaction.
You would think that, at least, and the film’s trailers didn’t give anything but that impression. What Spike Jonze crafted, though, was a work of haunting humanity about a man trying to connect with someone in the world … and finding it in his new phone’s artificial intelligence.
Theodore (Phoenix) is going through a rough time. He’s about to get divorced from his childhood sweetheart (Mara) and is a lonely, sad little man. He writes letters for people as a profession and is the sort of guy you mock as being a “nice guy” when he isn’t around. He’s a good cryer, and a good listener, but he’s the opposite of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype that has propped up all over film and television lately. He’s a sad sack, the kind of guy you mock for any number of reasons but mainly for being overly sensitive in a world that doesn’t prize that in men. Depressed over his upcoming divorce he gets a new phone with an advanced A.I system running it.
His phone now has a name, Samantha, and the film follows their relationship in an odd way. The two bond and fall in love, et al, despite the inherent difficulties of a human being and a phone being in a relationship.
In any other film this would be either the beginning of a wacky comedy or somehow involve an odd body swap. Instead the film takes the approach of having Theodore and Samantha in a relationship that evolves from friendship to romantic love with all of the inherent difficulties involved in it. Jonze takes a deep look at the problems of a guy like Theodore, and his personality, and manages to make him sympathetic because he’s a genuinely decent guy. In many films he’d be the guy that gets mocked or turns into a villain wanting revenge on the world in a superhero film.
Jonze manages to turn what is usually a stock character in a comedy film, the nebbish loser, and brings out a heart to him. Her is about the connections of humanity in the modern world … and he brings out something deeply intimate about the human experience in it.
There’s a handful of extras included but none of them are must see.
Warner Bros. presents Her. Written and Directed by Spike Jonze. Starring Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Scarlett Johansson (voice only), Olivia Wilde. Running time: 126 minutes. Rated R. Released: May 13, 2014.