PLOT: Theodore Twombly lives his life through the passion and joy of others. He writes letters from one stranger to another bringing connection to their life. Yet far from the hopeful words he transcribes, he is still aching for a marriage which he is watching fall apart. That is until he purchases an unusual operating system on his computer. Soon, he finds an unexpected connection to a voice that seems to understand and accept everything about him.
Spike Jonze's HER is a touching and very accurate account of the challenge and frustration of a romantic relationship. Of course a movie about a man’s connection with his OS (operating system) is about as far-fetched as you can imagine. Yet it works. Too bad iPhone’s Siri doesn’t quite have the charm of Scarlett Johansson who gives voice to Samantha, the “Her” in question. Or is she? The “Her” could simply be the woman you engage with on a sex line, or the woman that you thought you’d spend the rest of your life with. HER takes a contemporary approach to the complex idea of love while exploring the many facets and obstacles that sometimes seem too much to take on. There is more truth in HER than nearly every single romantic comedy Hollywood has produced in the past few years.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly. He is a writer who makes a living creating letters for random people paying to send loved ones personalized poetry. Yet his romantic life is far from poetic. His wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) and her lawyer are desperately trying to get him to finalize their divorce. It was a marriage that he is trying to hold on to. Lonely and lost in his memory of happier times, Theodore decides to try a new program that offers a personalized OS to do more than just organize your online files. Much to his surprise, the voice coming out of his computer is warm, witty and pretty darn attractive sounding. “She” even gives herself the name “Samantha” after she accesses a book on baby names in a split second or two. And yes, Scarlett Johansson gives an incredible, award worthy performance with not one minute of showing her lovely face on-screen. It may be just a voice, but what a voice it is.
Speaking of strong performances, it is hard not to be sympathetic to Twombly’s plight thanks to Phoenix. Vulnerable, compassionate and lost, he carries this film ably letting us accept his deep love for a voice coming from his computer. The actors work here is honest and touching as well as a little offbeat. He also shares a few inspired moments with Amy Adams who no matter what she does cannot be anything less than radiant as of late. Ms. Adams plays “Amy,” a friend of Theodore who clearly understands and accepts him throughout his troubled marriage and beyond. She herself is in a difficult situation with a complicated and overbearing spouse named Charles (the terrific Matt Letscher). She even has an OS of her very own.
The rest of the supporting performances are all quite good including Mara as the soon-to-be-ex-wife. The actress gives the proper balance to Phoenix. She plays Catherine with strength without turning her into a villain or a stereotype. The scene-stealing Chris Pratt is an absolute treat as Twombly’s hyper-friendly co-worker Paul. Throughout the course of the film we get to know this character and the film is much better for it. The lovely and charismatic Olivia Wilde also makes an appearance for a surprisingly intense sequence as a date for Theodore. And in one of the most charming cameos ever put to film, Spike Jonze himself gives voice to a frighteningly cool foul-mouthed alien child in a virtual video game. Some of the most memorable laughs come from this strange little guy.
HER is an unexpectedly intricate look at what is a very real and emotional relationship. The script written by Jonze is provocative yet incredibly personal. The focus is not on sex, it is understanding and companionship, something which all of the characters are desperately seeking. Thankfully the filmmaker avoids the more clichéd and comical elements that he could have by telling a story about a guy in love with his computer – 1984’s ELECTRIC DREAMS anyone. This is thought-provoking stuff. When a simple ‘sigh’ is questioned, it is done so with sincerity and may invite your own curiosity the next time you hear somebody take a moment to breathe before speaking.
In addition to the beautiful script, Jones brings HER to life visually as well. Working with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (who is also credited with Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated INTERSTELLAR), they create this world with only a slight hint of science fiction. The little moments are never lost. The simplicity of lying on the bed as tiny particles of dust drift down say as much about the intimacy of each moment as the larger more emotional scenes. When that is disrupted by ultimate realizations, it is all the more potent. There is quite the attention to detail from the unnervingly high waist line in the men's costume design to the appropriate color palate of each moment presented. Even the close-ups tell a story all their own. This is a stunning film. HER is filled with strong performances, an insightful script, beautiful direction and an impressive score from the critically acclaimed rock outfit Arcade Fire for what is truly a very human love story. A must see.