Review of Spike Jonze's "her"

her  ★★★★★

 

This is such a touching, funny, and intelligent film. I loved not only the caring way it approached relationships (both human/human and human/A.I.) but how it was optimistic about the future of technology and our interaction with it as opposed to most science fiction.

To be sure it questions how we will interact with blossoming A.I. and continue to struggle with staying connected with the people in our lives as we juggle more and more ways to be "jacked in", however, it does so in way that makes you think of so many positive ways for technology to continue to make our lives easier and maybe even more fulfilling.

How could an evolving A.I. like Samantha assist with giving lonely elderly people someone to talk to and help with tasks? What would be wrong with having an ear to bend when you wake up at 2 AM with thoughts rolling around in your head? Maybe when you come home drunk it could save you from making embarrassing texts or phone calls by listening to your semi-coherent ramblings. What kind of future collaboration and problem solving could occur with such an A.I.?

Of course, none of these wonderful after-viewing thoughts are possible if the film doesn't work or comes off like a gimmick. Thankfully, Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson create a relationship that not only doesn't elicit eye rolling and laughs from the audience but makes you feel concerned for both of them as the relationship progresses. Johansson delivers one of the best performances of the year. With only her voice she does a remarkable job of carrying her part of the emotional core of the film.

her makes some excellent choices with the story its telling. First, it doesn't turn Phoenix's Theodore into some awkward outcast who can only interact with technology. He has friends, is successful at his job, and even his relationship with his ex-wife is about as amicable as one can get. He approaches his growing feelings for Samantha cautiously and questions his sanity at times. Second, and even more importantly, it creates a world where a person becoming involved in a relationship with an advanced and aware operating system isn't looked at as insane. This could have bogged the film down and really distracted from exploring the relationship issues and Samantha's always evolving and sometimes confusing and frightening journey further into awareness. This IS the future. As our interaction with technology becomes further entangled and it grows to a point where it can interact with us on its own; there will come a moment where humans start feeling attached to it the same way we become attached to animals and project human traits onto them. It's a wise and liberating move on Spike Jonze's part to not turn this into a story about whether it's "right" to become involved in a relationship with an A.I. but rather how would that relationship play out and effect the lives of those involved.

While the main relationship is definitely between Theodore and Samantha; the other all-human interactions aren't ignored or given lightweight treatment. Amy Adams is Phoenix's friend who is dealing with the unwinding of her own marriage and also develops a friendship with a version of the OS which brought Samantha to life, and his friend at work finds new love and invites him to bring Samantha out for double dates. Through flashbacks and one carefully crafted scene together, Phoenix and Rooney Mara display the kind of failed relationship that a lot of us have that both haunts us with the mistakes made and love lost but also gives us many happy memories to cherish.

On top of all this fantastic relationship and future technology angles being explored there's also some legit humor; my favorite being Theodore's interaction with a character in a video game he enjoys playing. As a gamer I appreciated the take on gaming of the future: everything is motion controlled so nothing to hold in the hand and the image is huge and immerses you by allowing you to be right on top of the action instead of a 3-D type of projection. This is also a funny picture because instead of cruelly poking fun at the characters; it relies on witty dialog since everyone on screen is thoughtful with good senses of humor.

I also liked the small changes to the world the film takes place in which suggests a believable option of the future. Wool pants will apparently come back into fashion (no thanks...lol) and there's no need for belts, nice wood cases for computers, automatic lights will be common place in the home, and there seemed to be excellent subtle color highlights everywhere. This is a future I would love to live in.

I hold Being John Malkovich in high regard, didn't really fall for Adaptation, and haven't seen Where the Wild Things Are. I think her solidifies Spike Jonze's presence as one of the most skilled and interesting film makers working today.