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Her - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published January 13th 2014
A story about artificial intelligence and high pants
Director: Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are, Adaptation)
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara

Perennial innovator Spike Jonze has created a love story for the 21st century with Her, the tale of a man who falls in love with a piece of software called Samantha.

her joaquin phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix plays introverted Theodore Twombly

The date is never specified, but from the beginning it's clear that we have been transported to the near future. It's L.A., and our protagonist, Theodore, spends much of his time listening to his emails being read out on his voice activated hand device. Everything else looks pretty much as it does now except the city's skyline is a little more built up, public transport seems more common than cars and all the men wear high pants.

Theodore's job consists of dictating letters which his computer transcribes as "hand written". They're affectionate letters commissioned by customers to their loved ones. Theodore is especially good at composing such heartfelt correspondence but ironically has trouble expressing himself in personal relationships. He's gloomy over his impending divorce and has trouble connecting with anyone new, preferring the privacy of computer games.

her joaquin phoenix spike jonze
Theodore's workmate Paul (Chris Pratt) demonstrates that high pants are the fashion of the future

He decides to buy the latest computer-based operating system, an OS, which comes with a Siri-like voice prompter. The design is so advanced that the voice has been programmed to have its own unique personality and the ability to intuitively develop with usage. As voiced seductively by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha is certainly a beguiling entity. Pretty soon Theodore is smitten, and more surprisingly, Samantha feels the same way about him.

And so begins the romance between a human being and a cloud based entity. They share all their intimate "feelings" and thoughts. Jonze even gives us a phone sex scene, for want of a better description, which includes about 30 seconds of a blank screen with the audio of our two heroes climaxing. It's a daring conceit, which could have been laughably bad but it actually works.

Her is a timely comment on the society we live in, where people often choose the safety and solitude of technology over the risk of reaching out to other people. It also probes into the murky world of increasingly cognitive artificial intelligence. How long before someone really does create software that thinks for itself and develops its own seemingly emotional responses?

It's a fascinating construct that for the most part is successfully played out on screen. After a while though it feels like Jonze has written himself into a corner, as evidenced by the anticlimactic finale. It's also hard to truly engage on an emotional level because, unlike Theodore, for us the relationship doesn't feel real.

Spike Jonze has again given us high concept comedy/drama, but don't go expecting this to be as inspired as Being John Malkovich. Her offers much food for thought, but despite the originality and timeliness of the subject, it doesn't quite hit the sweet spot.

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Why? A love story for the 21st century
Where: At selected cinemas
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