Computers and the internet have certainly changed how people date and interact, from Facebook to dating sites, but what happens when people can get emotionally involved with the technology itself? her, written and directed by Spike Jonze, is a intelligent and delicate romance story in the near future that demonstrates that that even with amazing technology, the more things change the more they stay the same.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely guy. He makes a living taking information from people and writing emotional letters to their loved ones (which a computer writes in the client's handwriting). He's been separated from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) for months, but he can't bring himself to sign the divorce papers. He spends time with his friend Amy (Amy Adams) and her critical husband Charles (Matt Letscher), spends a lot of time playing a videogame alone in his apartment, rarely dates, and has a humorously horrible experience with online sex.
Things change -- or do they? -- when Ted gets Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson), an operating system designed to learn, to be intuitive, and to grow. Ted finds Samantha to be funny, smart, challenging, helpful, and it's not long before the two are dating, having sex (handled tastefully), and sharing their thoughts and dreams. But along with the joy of new love comes the challenges of a long-term relationship: Ted's panic when he can't get touch with Samantha (usually omnipresent, thanks to Ted's earbud); worries about having less sex (and an attempt to spice things up that falls flat); fears one person is outgrowing the other; one verbal slip-up leading to a big argument,; and, of course, "we need to talk."
It would have been easy for her to be a treatise on technology, but while the movie has a lot to say about tech and people (Ted's job involves artificial creations; almost everyone walks around with a smartphone or earbud) it's more about relationships and emotions, as real for Ted and Samantha as for regular humans. Joaquin Phoenix plays Ted perfectly, as a sensitive and sad guy who wants love and romance but always manages to get in his own way. Scarlett Johansson's vocal performance is touching, as her character grows from a friend to lover to someone finding that there's more in the world beyond her boyfriend; it's very easy to forget that her character is a disembodied computer (or, as she'd say, an operating system). There's lots of humor here -- the goofy early dating, Ted's co-worker Paul (Chris Pratt) having a man-crush on Ted -- but also a lot of the elation and heartache of love. her may seem about a human-program relationship, but it's a moving look at how we interact with each other, for better and worse.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch