Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ is as excellent as its five Oscar nominations would indicate

Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams in 'Her'
Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams in ‘Her’

If someone could figure out a way to bottle and sell the whimsy of Spike Jonze, they would make an insane amount of money.  His fourth film, Her, is as imaginative as any of the prior three and a very thought-provoking movie.

Joaquin Phoenix plays “Theodore Twombly” (obviously a nod to the late Cy Twombly, a noted artist), who lives somewhere in the not too distant future.  He earns his keep by writing letters for those who don’t express their own feelings well.  He is living in that limbo men occupy after separating from their wives, before the divorce is finalized.  He’s clearly still aching for his soon-to-be ex-wife, “Catherine” (Mara) but he is trying to fill the void in his life with online games and the infrequent visit with friends.

Then he spies a new operating system, the OS-1.  It’s being touted as the world’s first such technology imbued with artificial intelligence.  The interactive female voice of the system quickly names herself “Samantha” and she begins to undertake changes in Theodore’s life.  She learns very quickly and Theodore perceives she is growing on more than just an intellectual level.

Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara in 'Her'
Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara in ‘Her’

One of those friends that Theodore visits with on occasion is “Aimee” (Amy Adams), who is married to “Charles” (Matt Lescher) who Theodore disapproves of.  However, as a good friend, he keeps mostly quiet about his opinion.  Aimee wants Theodore to go out on a blind date with a friend of hers (“Blind Date” is how she’s listed in the credits and she’s played by Olivia Wilde).  Samantha pushes Theodore to accept the date and he does.  It starts well but in the end, Theodore is back in his apartment, talking to Samantha.

Despite the fact that Samantha is only an operating system, with no physicality, she and Theodore’s relationship grows into a romantic one.  Theodore is ecstatic and as a result his writing improves, although it was among the best before he became involved with Samantha.

Theodore meets with Catherine to sign the divorce papers, and mentions that he’s seeing someone.  At first Catherine is thrilled, as she doesn’t hate him.  But when she learns that his new girlfriend is just an operating system, she becomes agitated.  Soon, Aimee is divorcing Charles and is involved with her own operating system.

Joaquin Phoenix and Olivia Wilde in 'Her'
Joaquin Phoenix and Olivia Wilde in ‘Her’

In the second decade of the 21st Century, where you can see friends dining together at a restaurant, all banging away on their iPhones while basically ignoring one another, the commentary of this movie is clear.  The progression of technology is driving us further apart in person while bringing us closer and closer to the computers that grow ever more critical to our daily existence.  As seems to be the case with any Spike Jonze film, the acting is superb.  Joaquin Phoenix excels as Theodore.  Scarlett Johansson is wonderful as the voice of Samantha.  Great dialogue and excellent cinematography enhance a terrific story.

An interesting tidbit about Her is that Samantha Morton was originally cast as “Samantha” and she had voiced the entire film before the part went to Johansson.  During editing, Jonze realized that the Samantha that had been created during filming wasn’t exactly what he wanted.  Morton gave her blessing to re-casting the role.

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