'Her,' which examines love and technology, is incredibly timely
'Her' stars Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with a computer operating system.
If ever there was a romantic scenario for our time, it’s “Her.” Set in a slightly futuristic Los Angeles, it’s about Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely guy who finds love with a personalized computer operating system.Skip to next paragraph
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Theodore, soft-spoken, with a bushy moustache, writes love letters for clients of the company “Beautiful Handwritten Letters,” although he himself is lovelorn. He pines for his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), from whom he is separated, and dreads their imminent divorce. When he signs up for this latest in computer breakthroughs, the OS1, what he really is looking for is companionship. And boy, does he get it.
Samantha, as she calls herself, is more than a higher-level version of Siri. She’s a consciousness, and, before long, a species of lover. As voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha is chipper and smoky-voiced – a combination helpmate and soul mate and cybervamp. Theodore, the professional romantic, is smitten.
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Spike Jonze, who wrote and directed, is one of the most lyrically fanciful and cockeyed filmmakers around. “Being John Malkovich,” in which a puppeteer discovers a portal into the actor’s mind, and “Adaptation,” about the labyrinthine curlicues of literary creation, were screwball fantasias that managed to plug into the zeitgeist big time. Both scripted by Charlie Kaufman, they spoke about fame and celebrity in new ways.
“Her” is not as sly or knockabout as those movies. It’s unabashedly amorous – a fabulist’s love letter to love. But the romance creeps up on you, just as it does with Theodore. Jonze lets the story play out in a kind of woozy, tentative dreamtime that seems magically right for this material. (Phoenix’s slow-turned performance seems magically right, too). He doesn’t push the futurism, either. It’s as if we’re looking ahead to the present. One of the pleasant surprises here is that, in contrast to most futuristic movies, the computer beings are as touchingly confused as the humans.
Before he “meets” Samantha, Theodore spends his nights alone in his cryptlike aerie overlooking the twinkly cityscape (in reality a melange of L.A. and Shanghai). He bides him time playing 3-D holographic computer games with an avatar who acts like a foul-mouthed Pillsbury Dough Boy; he inserts his ear buds and summons phone sex partners. By the time Samantha enters his life, he is more than primed for renewal.