Film review: Her

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Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix co-star in Her, a movie about the plausibility of a user falling in love with his operating system. Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix co-star in Her, a movie about the plausibility of a user falling in love with his operating system.

It’s the sort of utopian, not-too-distant future. Men wear high-waisted pants and mustaches without irony. Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his operating system.

It sounds crazy. And creepy. Though how far are we from that reality? We’re already in love with our gadgets. Why shouldn’t it be plausible that someone invents an operating system that has artificial intelligence? And why couldn’t that operating system fall in love with its user, and vice versa?

That’s Her’s premise. For all its problems—and it has plenty—Her raises enough thoughtful questions to keep you thinking about it long after the closing credits end.

Theodore (Phoenix, recovering nicely from his performance as Popeye the Sailor in The Master) writes letters for people who don’t want to write for themselves—or maybe they don’t have a gift for words. Whatever the reason, Theodore sits in a lovely light-filled office and writes for others.

He’s addicted to technology. One day on his way to work he sees an advertisement for the first operating system that has reliable artificial intelligence. He buys it, uploads it after work, and soon the O.S. (Samantha, who’s voiced by Scarlett Johansson) is chatting with him about his personal life and what it means to be human.

It’s all rather innocent at first. And it remains rather innocent, which is one of Her’s charms. That helps keep the creepiness factor at bay. Samantha just wants to love Theodore, who is separated from and divorcing Catherine (Rooney Mara), a real-life person.

There are complications. Samantha has no body and her attempts to find a surrogate backfire drastically. Plus, as she grows in strength and intellect—the operating systems keep learning—she becomes more distant from Theodore as she seeks knowledge and experience from other people and machines.

In the end, it becomes a relationship not unlike other relationships: It grows and changes. And once you get past the she’s-not-flesh-and-blood angle of Samantha’s existence, Her becomes emotional and highly watchable. Phoenix is spectacular, and Johansson’s performance is award caliber.

About those problems: First, Her is clearly a movie about a relationship written from the point of view of a man. If you’re looking for female insight, look elsewhere. Second, Her fails the Bechdel Test—none of the women in this movie talk about anything other than their relationships with men. There’s one couple (played by Amy Adams and Matt Letscher) that’s so stereotypically mid-20th century, it feels as if they’re only slightly more evolved than Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsley.

Third, Samantha comes dangerously close to Manic Pixie Dream Girl status (and I apologize for using that phrase). The fact that she grows and changes seems simultaneously good—everyone needs to change, especially in screenplays—and bad, because her evolution dramatically changes the tenor of the relationship. Here’s the question: Is she changing because that’s a natural thing for her character to do? Or is she changing, and not to Theodore’s liking, because Spike Jonze fears change? (Short answer: Who knows?)

Her must be doing something correctly because I’ve found myself thinking about it often. In the end, it’s a surprisingly sweet, melancholy, and touching meditation on how we manage relationships.

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Movie houses

Regal Downtown Mall Cinema 6
979-7669

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
244-3213

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