Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely writer, develops a profound relationship with his newly purchased OS1 - an operating system that calls herself Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson), that's designed to meet his every need.
Review by Louise Keller:
What is wonderful about this romantic comedy from Spike Jonze is the sheer audacity of the concept and the execution. In a notion that rivals Charlie Kaufman's 1999 Being John Malkovich, Her creates an intricate and intimate relationship between a romantic wordsmith and dislocated husky voice of his intuitive operating system. This film about love of a virtual kind is inventive, outlandish, gentle, revealing, warm, funny and quirky to the nth degree.
The brilliance of Jonze's execution is the reality that he creates in which nothing is off-limits: people walk around seemingly talking to themselves as they communicate with the world at large through central voices that control their lives. It is in this context that we are able to take a leap of faith as Theodore (Phoenix) and Samantha (Johansson) become acquainted, exchange ideas, share thoughts and even have sex - in a manner of speaking. Speaking of consummating the relationship, Jonze's concept pushes the envelope to such an extent that we, like Theodore, feel decidedly uncomfortable about where things lead.
The establishment scenes are vitally important when we meet Theodore at work using his male and female sides as he dictates passionate letters to his computer - on his clients' behalf - at handwrittenletters.com. We quickly learn that everything in Theodore's life happens through technology. Through his earpiece he remotely instructs his operating system to play music, read emails and even indulge in phone sex with a stranger in the middle of the night (hilariously voiced by Kristen Wiig), when he cannot sleep. We laugh knowingly as we learn the key question for the programming of his dedicated personal operating system: what is his relationship with his mother?
The dynamic of the relationship that develops between Theodore and the self-named Samantha is not dissimilar to that between two people. The illusion becomes complete as we watch Phoenix's every expression in tight focus as he listens to Johansson's sexy voice. They enjoy each other's company, compare notes, laugh together, share intimacies and then the screen fades to black as the action becomes R-rated. Like in any relationship, Theodore and Samantha learn things about themselves as well as each other, as the layers of their feelings for each other deepen. They seem to bring out the best in each other. They enjoy each other and want to be together. The fact that Samantha wants to have a physical presence is the trigger for a high risk plot point. Inevitably the film eventually runs out of puff but it establishes plenty in the meantime.
Woven into the narrative are the real women in Theodore's life - his ex wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) and Amy Adams as the old friend and fleeting lover from years ago. Mara and Adams ground the film in a substantial way, even though the key action is between Theodore and Samantha. Phoenix is superb in the role: he defines every little detail of Theodore's character, needs and wants, while Johansson does the impossible by creating a real person from a disembodied voice.
Look out for the ever-changing colour palettes which play an ongoing role in the emotional curves and be prepared for some confronting and revealing insights about intimate relationships. This is an arresting, unique entertainment that confronts, amuses and challenges us.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There's something entirely credible about a man falling in love with a woman's persona through her voice. It's a little more of a stretch to accept it if the voice is that of an OS, not withstanding our familiarity with operating systems in our computers and phones. The magic of Spike Jonze's film is that through the riveting physical performance of Joaquin Phoenix and the seductive voice performance of Scarlett Johansson, we do believe. We are as wrapt in their affair as in any other romance, this one a little more edgy and peppered with humorous observations about our contemporary lives. Like the isolation of befriending our devices in the midst of a crowd.
The great irony that Jonze explores is how Theodore (Phoenix) discovers an ability to commit to a one-to-one relationship with an unreal entity ... through a digital personality without a physical presence. The double irony is the proposition that the fully intuitive new OS1 can not only have a relationship with Theodore - but also with thousands of others. At the same time. You can draw your own metaphoric conclusions from that, but it's the humanity that interests Jonze. What exactly is that? What indeed.
There are some fascinating touches here: attentive viewers will note how in many of the crowd scenes the men carry shoulder bags. In one scene they all carry briefcases. What does that mean? The sense of the setting being in the future is subtly implied by wardrobe (eg, men's trousers are beltless and above the waist with long crutches), by the advanced video games Theodore plays in hologram, and by a few other subtle touches.
But it's not really a sci-fi movie; it's about you and me and everyone else, trying to make sense of this strange condition of humanity. And sex. Jonze explores intimacy and trust, the repetition of mistakes in relating to each other and the freedom to discover the world through each other's eyes. Quite a challenge. A third major irony is that he does all this through the device of an entity that is artificial. But that also gives him cinematic freedom.
It's touching and funny and thought provoking and compelling and the music is a perfect partner to the picture. This is bravura filmmaking, risking all on trusting the instinct of a writer (Theodore is also a writer) and the ability to create a complex, fascinating persona that the audience never sees. But we do feel her.
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CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, Roony Mara, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Matt Letscher
VOICES: Scarlett Johansson, Artt Butler
PRODUCER: Megan Ellison, Vincent Landay
DIRECTOR: Spike Jonze
SCRIPT: Spike Jonze
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hoyte Van Hoytema
EDITOR: Jeff Buchanan, Eric Zumbrunnen
MUSIC: Arcade Fire, Owen Pellett
PRODUCTION DESIGN: K. K. Barrett
RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 16, 2014