Review: Her (Jonze, 2013)

Still from the movie Her


In Her, which takes place in the not-too-distant future, Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a professional letter writer who falls in love with his new operating system Samantha (voice by Scarlett Johansson).

I found aspects of this movie delightful. For example, the charming little technological enhancements–ubiquitous speech recognition, 3D or holographic video games, high speed rail (is this one sadly the most far-fetched?)–are fun but still believable. Theodore and Samantha’s initial conversations are sweet and playful. So are Theodore’s conversations with his friend Amy (Amy Adams). In fact, the movie itself is playful. Yes, playful, delightful, inventive, charming, tinged with a beautiful melancholy. Those are the words that I would use to describe it. It’s refreshing as a “sci-fi” movie that takes place in the future but is not overrun by visions of the future and the bleak turn our society will take. Society looks pretty much the same as it does today but with sleeker and more integrated devices–at least for the affluent.

Nevertheless, the story, which starts out with so much potential, ultimately feels thin in its execution. Its exploration of love, of that ineffable thing that flows between humans (or human-like intelligences), has an aborted, teaser-like quality. And that rich, surprising build up I so enjoyed in the first half of the movie disintegrates in a matter of minutes, covered up by philosophical-sounding mumbo jumbo. Theodore’s past, which seems so important to his present, is also frustratingly opaque. As if writer/director Spike Jonze didn’t want to get into all that mess (and it probably would be a mess, as most human entanglements are). But not getting into it seems like a cop-out and contributes to Her‘s emotional hollowness.

Also, the film’s “science” is distractingly bad. Towards the end of the movie, Jonze seems to forget what the function of an operating system is and neglects to portray all the practical fall-out that would be expected of Samantha’s caprice.

In my assessment, Her is an ambitious film that falls short of its potential. But did I enjoy watching it? Absolutely. Will parts of it stay with me for a while? Probably. Does it deserve a Best Picture Oscar? I don’t think so.