How difficult it must feel to be lonely surrounded in a city of 8 million people. Wrapped up in your devices, eyes glued to your shoes on a crowded street. Removing one's self from society is easier than ever in the digital age. Plug in the ear buds, tune out the crowds, bury your head in your iPad and divorce yourself from reality. Women who would be completely unattainable in person are available at the convenience of a few clicks.
Spike Jonze excels in his studies of characters that fall back in the crowd and Her is perhaps his finest entry to date. Romantic comedies are largely considered a dead genre, but Her is proof that when a romantic comedy is done well, it can be one of the finest experiences moviegoers can have in a theatre.
This particular love story is unique in that only half of the couple is living and breathing.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) spends his days working at BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com where he composes emotional letters for clients who can't find the words themselves. At night he goes home and plays video games. Theodore's social calendar is empty except for the few dates that his friends Amy (Amy Adams) and Charles send him on.
Reeling from a fresh divorce from his wife (Rooney Mara) and looking for any change in his life to distract him from it, Theodore purchases a new operating system. Designed to meet his every need, OS One takes a few questions (including one very telling question about Theodore's mother) and spits out his personalized operator, who calls herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
The two feel each other out, developing what could be called a fling over the time they share with each other and all of life's new moments Samantha experiences first-hand with Theodore. One lonely night Theodore and Samantha awkwardly, and I do mean awkwardly, advance their relationship, indulging in a very intimate activity. Emboldened by Samantha's love and her way of looking at life, Theodore decides to open up his heart again. He even goes as far to call her his girlfriend.
Unsure how to tell people about his new relationship Theodore largely keeps everything to himself. It is only after Amy describes love to him as mostly "socially acceptable insanity" that he starts sharing Samantha with others. But as Samantha's zest for life experience leads to collaborations that Theodore can't see, he gets distant again. Feelings of inadequacy eventually rear their ugly head for any couple, but Theodore's consistent emotional withdrawal leaves viewers wondering if he can love anyone.
Spike Jonze places Theodore's slow awakening at the forefront of the picture, forcing audiences to sympathize with him, regardless of comfort. This tale is a universally poignant, Jonze insists. A man falling in love with an operating system before he realizes what love actually is serves as great commentary on this world. And that commentary served by Her is anchored by two great leads giving naturalistic performances in the form of Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson.
Joaquin Phoenix has always been considered edgy and out there, but he smooths out these edges playing Theodore with brash exuberance coupled with moments of painful shyness. Acting alone is always difficult – as evidenced in recent films like Gravity and All Is Lost – but participating in a one-sided romance is damn near impossible, but Phoenix pulls it all off wonderfully. Phoenix really steps out of his comfort zone and the effort pays off in huge dividends.
Given only a disembodied voice to convey her character with, Scarlett Johansson was riding her bike free not only without safety wheels , but also handlebars. She took a risk in playing Samantha, but her ability to convey a wide-range of emotions with only the inflections of her voice should remind critics she is more than just a pretty face.
A love story as bold and original as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the film takes some getting used to, but once invested in, the story proves quite poignant. Before audiences laugh off the odd romance witnessed onscreen, they should take pause and realize that none of what we are seeing in Her is truly that far off from reality. Person-to-person socialization is quickly becoming secondary to the plugged-in world we have created.
Before humanity goes beyond the point of no return, Jonze's film reminds us that we are alive in this world, we should be present here too.