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Friday, February 14, 2014

Review: Her

Man Meets Machine. Man Loves Machine. Any Questions?

By Chris Sabga



Release Date: January 10, 2014 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi
Running Time: 126 minutes
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, 
Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Matt Letscher, 
Olivia Wilde


What do you picture when you hear a name like Theodore Twombly? Probably a lonely, socially awkward man with round glasses, just a mustache, and pants pulled up too high. Then again, in the near future, it appears that mustaches are fashionable again and so are trousers that go up to one's nipples.

Such a brave new world demands brave new technology. Windows and other operating systems have apparently fallen by the wayside – replaced by the elegantly-titled OS1. "It’s not just an OS. It’s a consciousness." Indeed, this operating system can name itself, form independent thoughts, develop feelings, and tailor itself intimately to each individual user. This version of the program sounds like a female and introduces itself as Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is instantly smitten.

Things are a bit more complicated with the real women in his life. Flashbacks are shown of his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), who he constantly thinks about. And while he's very comfortable conversing with his friend and neighbor, Amy (Amy Adams), she's already married. He also attempts to go on a blind date (with a woman played by Olivia Wilde), but no one can understand him the way his computer companion can – the way Samantha does.

Joaquin Phoenix is tremendous as Theodore. It's a transcendental performance. He was unfairly overlooked for an Oscar nomination. The futuristic world of "Her" really comes alive, thanks to the film's spectacular visual style. Great care has obviously gone into every aesthetic aspect of the production – from the sets to the costumes to the gadgets – right down to the little details.

It's a shame, then, that I found myself unable to truly believe the movie's central premise. I wanted to. I tried to. But I couldn't.

"I'm dating my OS!"

When Theodore gleefully shares that information with others, they barely react (with one exception).

Come on!

Case-in-point: If I declared that I was in love with Siri, the iPhone's voice feature, I'd be locked up for life! Even if my family and friends were as "understanding" as Theodore's, I suppose I'd get strange reactions anyway because I've set mine to sound like an Englishman. Don't judge! "He" has a pleasing lilt – very refined. Unfortunately, I have to speak like a Brit myself to get "him" to understand me.

The limits of technology!

Theodore and Samantha, however, have no such issues. The movie, on the other hand, has quite a few.

For one thing, it drags on and on. I felt every single second of "Her's" 126-minute running time. Then again, I'm not sure what could have possibly been cut out to tighten the flow – everything that was included seemed important to the story in some way.

Also, as good as Phoenix is here, his character can come across as a bit creepy at times. I suspect that's partly by design, though. After all, normal, well-adjusted people don't date their computers.

Regardless, that "relationship" is one of the major problems I have with the movie. It's not realistic. It rings false.

Yes, I realize "Her" is likely meant to be an allegory about our current over-reliance on technology. Parallels can certainly be made between events of this film and the way we interact with websites, virtual pen pals, and everything else the world wide web has to offer. Still, even the most outlandish fantasy has to work at least somewhat on a credible, real-world, literal level; the core "romance" between man and machine in this movie never quite does. I was unable to completely suspend my disbelief.

Even though the film didn't entirely work for me, I can still see myself revisiting it in the future. Writer and director Spike Jonze deserves credit for crafting a grand, bold vision. Instead of playing it safe, he took big chances and dared to be original and artistic.

I didn't love "Her," but I do admire it.  

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