Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: Her

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Spike Jonze's funny, strange and melancholy "Her" is the perfect iRomance for our gadget-obsessed age. But not only is the director's latest an hilarious - and slightly disturbing, considering the implications - view of a world in which everything, including love, for some at least, involves a computer, it's also a forlornly rendered - and often lovely - take on the loss of love and loneliness.

We first meet Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix in, perhaps, his most sympathetic role to date) as he composes a romantic love letter to a person unknown. We soon find out that Theo, who lives in a not-so-distant future Los Angeles where high-waist paints are all the rage, works for a company that writes authentic-seeming letters for people and, as the picture opens, our guy is merely doing his job.

Theo is not so lucky in love. It is revealed through fragmented flashback images that he is in the midst of a divorce with his wife (Rooney Mara), who was his childhood sweetheart, and that he is living a mostly isolated and lonely existence. His only true friend is Amy (Amy Adams, terrific as ever), who is also married but has some problems of her own.

Our guy has few opportunities to connect, with the exception of a phone sex date that goes hilariously awry and an actual date with a friend of a friend that hardly goes better. Theo is confined to playing a virtual video game in his apartment that includes a foul-mouthed little alien who berates him. No, seriously, you have to see it to believe it.

One day while walking, Theo sees an advertisement for OS 1, a new operating system that can be tailor-made to its owner. He purchases one and is a bit disarmed at how quickly his system, which is named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), not only learns to communicate with him based on his needs and personality, but also can read a book in less than a second and gradually develops personality traits and feelings.

Theo strikes up a friendship with Samantha that becomes something much deeper, preferring her company to that of actual human companionship, which his soon-to-be-ex-wife is quick to point out. The story of "Her" may sound preposterous but, then again, so did "Being John Malkovich." Jonze is a filmmaker that takes outrageously wacky stories and gives them heart, soul and purpose.

Despite that the film is a love story between a human being and a gadget, I can't think of any other movie about love or relationships this year as profoundly thoughtful on those subjects. Theo will eventually face a harsh truth - and not an obvious one where you think the film may be leading you - and his discovery is handled poignantly and in a manner that feels true.

"Her" is one of the year's most unique films. It's one that captures the essence and difficulties of loneliness better than any other of recent memory - and yet, it's not a picture without hope. The movie has that off-the-wall sense of humor we've come to expect from Jonze as well as the bizarre plot, but the filmmaker tackles the subject in all seriousness.

And the film is even a bit unsettling in a recognizable way. During one particular sequence, Theo is sitting on the stairs leading down to a subway and in the middle of getting a piece of bad news. As he looks up, every single person exiting the subway is engaged with a piece of gadgetry, ignoring the rest of the world around them. It's no wonder poor Theo feels so gloomy - everybody is plugged in, but nobody is connecting.

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