Her, for its story alone, shouldn’t work. The story of a man who falls in love with his operating system is ridiculous enough to potentially put off audiences. If it wasn’t for Spike Jonze directing it, it probably would have ended up as a ridiculous Adam Sandler romantic comedy with Sandler doing dumb things with his Kevin James voiced OS.
We meet Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a soon to be divorced man who works at an agency tasked with writing replies to the personal letters of it’s clients. As a result, colleague Paul (Chris Platt) constantly questions Theodore as to when he will move on in his life and meet someone else. The divorce itself (from childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara)) stems from the fact the couple failed to form close bonds early in their relationship, a problem only exasperated by Theodore’s own crisis of confidence as to how the marriage would work. In contrast he sees the apparently happy marriage of his close friend Amy (Amy Adams), which seems to run much smoother than his ever did.
Happening upon a new operating system called OS One designed to improve organisation and designed with the user in mind, Theodore installs it and after answering a series of questions, the OS takes on a female voice that dubs itself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). After a failed blind date with one of Amy’s close friends, he sits down to discuss discuss relationships with Samantha. With Samantha’s curiosity and Theodore’s experience, this is the piece in which their own relationship is found and grown.
From this point, the film revolves around an unexpected emotional attachment that forms between Theodore and Samantha which is brought to live by both Phoenix and Johansson who are able to form a fascinating and captivating bond on screen despite Johansson’s appearing in voice alone. You begin to root for this couple and become desperate to see things progress despite the obvious limitations of the situation, all due to the unique chemistry the actors form.
The real beauty of Her grows from a surprisingly believable setting. The semi-futuristic landscape of Los Angeles feels like something that would be a natural progression of modern civilized life rather than a forced, futuristic dystopia reliant on excessive amounts of fantastical technology. Obviously there is a pretty big Sci-fi suspension of disbelief required for the OS One technology to have a place but bypassing those more fantastical elements really allows Her to stand out because of how ‘normal’ the world of the movie is. It feels like a natural progression of where humanity currently is, including a very realistic extension of click bait tabloid online reporting.
The performances in Her are consistently strong, starting with those great lead performances and extending to that of Amy Adams who will only add to her growing acting reputation in her role. The dialogue is natural and the characters’ reactions realistic throughout the cast. Nobody is ever exaggerated or made to seem cartoonish and throwing weight behind the world built by Jonze, in both direction and script. Really it’s extraordinary how this is somehow pulled off with such elegance within the confines of a Science Fiction film.
If there is a weakness, some of Her’s storyline might feel a tad clichéd for some as Theodore and Samantha’s relationship takes the turns you expect in a movie romance, but the roles are performed with enough panache to remain engrossing enough to forgive. Additionally the questions raised by the movie about technology and its ever growing potential for real artificial intelligence gives these clichés a fresh spin and never harms the solid foundations already built.
It needs to be said again that Her should not work. It should be a cynical piece about our reliance on technology or an excuse for bad Google Glass jokes but it instead a film about the struggle to find someone. It is not enough that the film simply works but how well it works and the extent to which it does so, letting you bond and attach yourself to a story that is extremely easy to relate to, even if the veneer of the film means that might not seem possible. You will never look at Siri the same way again.
Her is out today
This was originally posted on The Geek Agenda