The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>Her</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Her

A lonely man falls for a sentient computer operating system.

Directed by: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara

Theodore (Phoenix) lives in a near future Los Angeles where he is employed by '', a job which involves him writing fake romantic letters for clients ala Cyrano de Bergerac. Going through a drawn out divorce settlement with his wife, Catherine (Mara), who he still has feelings for, Theodore has become introverted and struggles to reintegrate himself into the dating scene. When he purchases an advanced new operating system for his expensive apartment's computer system, he discovers the OS (voiced by Johansson) is sentient and goes by her self chosen name of Samantha. At first Theodore simply appreciates how well Samantha streamlines his life but soon he begins to develop romantic feelings that, to his surprise, are reciprocal.
It's often joked that a man's ideal woman is one who looks pretty and doesn't speak. In Spike Jonze' latest sci-fi romance, his protagonist falls for exactly the opposite, a disembodied female voice, all personality and no looks. At least that's the theory behind it but it doesn't quite work out that way for the audience, thanks to Jonze casting the husky voiced Johansson in the role of Samantha. Employing a recognizable actress, let alone one who possesses arguably the most distinctive voice in Hollywood, seems counter-productive. Jonze surely wants us to experience his unconventional romance in the same way as his lovers but how can we when we're automatically picturing one of the world's most famous and beautiful women? Theodore just hears a voice but we hear a glamorous movie star. The part of Samantha is one that required a completely unknown actress for us to truly think of her as simply a voice, one which we can project our own ideals of a romantic partner on.
The casting of Phoenix is equally misguided. At one point, after screwing up a date, a similarly lonely woman (Wilde) calls him a "very creepy man". With Phoenix's performance resembling that of Peter Ferdinando's titular serial killer from the British movie Tony, it's difficult to disagree with Wilde's statement, but I suspect that's not how Jonze wants us to feel. It's a moment reminiscent of the "What do you do?", "I'm a puppeteer", "Check please" interaction between Catherine Keener and John Cusack in the director's 1999 debut, Being John Malkovich. In that case the joke was all too clear but here it's muddled by the performance of Phoenix, an actor who struggles to convey sensitivity in the way someone like the late Philip Seymour Hoffman could so naturally.
With a considerable slice of the movie featuring Theodore lying in bed or sitting at his desk in conversation with the voice of Samantha, Her feels like an adaptation of a stage play, one that could give August: Osage County a run for its money for an absence of cinematic storytelling. In its similary to the sci-fi comedies of the eighties it could easily be subtitled Mannequin: Not on the Move. During a vocals only sex scene, the screen goes completely blank, betraying Jonze' intent; he's more concerned that you listen to his characters than watch them. Her might make great radio, but it sure isn't cinema. Perhaps Jonze truly has made a movie for those in love with their phones. His film is tailor made for "second screeners"; they can completely ignore the screen and follow its dull narrative while catching up on that important life they seem unable to put on hold for a film's running time.

Eric Hillis