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Her
USA 2013
Directed by Spike Jonze
Running time 126 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


Synopsis: A lonely writer, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), going through a divorce falls in love with a computer operating system calling itself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johannson).

A few years ago Lars and The Real Girl, a film about a lonely guy and his relationship with a blow-up doll was a big hit. I found it simplistic, ridiculous and irritating, Spike Jonze’s film about a lonely guy and his relationship with a computer operating system is at times faintly ridiculous and slightly irritating but to its credit it is not simplistic.

Her is both a cautionary extension of the virtualization of relationships which is increasingly becoming the modern condition and a contemplation of the persisting desire for love which is part of the human condition.  Whereas Lars was realistic, Her is a kind of parable set in the not-too distant future, a frame of reference which allows Jonze and us both to parenthesize the slightly ridiculous idea of a guy in love with some software. (Then again, what’s new? As Julia Robert’s Barbara says in August: Osage County, people will convince themselves that they’re in love with a painted rock)

Although the boldness of the concept and its realization are impressive, with an inventive and probing script by Jonze, excellent performances by Phoenix, an unseen Johannson (whose voice-over replaced the original done by Samantha Morton) and a nice side appearance from Amy Adams, the scenario splendidly put on screen with a stylishly beguiling retro-futuristic look, it is essentially an expository rather than an emotional or dramatic film. This is where the slightly irritating component comes in. Theodore with his carefully co-ordinated wardrobe, shoulder bag (everyone carries a bag in Jonze's future) and puppy doggish appeal gets a little tiresome as he bills and coos with "Samantha" in his designer apartment. For the love of gawd, could anyone, even from the future, really be this deluded? A brief outburst from his former wife who tells a non-plussed waitress that her ex is “madly in love with his lap-top” provides a welcome breath of reality in what is otherwise an overly cute treatment of an evident folly. There needed to be more such disruption for the film to engage us as a plausible prediction of where we are headed. (Well, that's me. Smartphone users and internet daters might find it much more credible).

The film's ending is somewhat elliptical but it turns out that even Samantha is not identical with Theodore’s fantasy. So what ultimately is the point of the insistent computer/human, digital/analog opposition? That fantasy is not enough? That we need to face the messiness of real love? It's a very traditional rom-com message that leaves Jonze's film, for all its seeming sophistication, as a more intelligent version of The Secret Life Of Walther Mitty.

As an observer of the heart, with Her, Jonze has kicked some goals, as a futurist, we'll have to wait and see.

 

 

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