Movie review: Love hurts, even if 'Her' lives in a computer

For the News-DemocratJanuary 9, 2014 

What It's About

Writer-director Spike Jonze is an innovative filmmaker ("Being John Malkovich") who has created a thought-provoking premise in "Her."

He has fashioned a world in the not-too-distant future where technology has become more immersive and human communication is ever more elusive. Relationships are worth the effort but confounding as people rely more on high-tech conveniences and connect comfortably to gizmos.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a sensitive letter writer who is separated from his wife and young daughter. Lonely and vulnerable, he relates to his new operating system in a very intimate way, and eventually falls in love with Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson). He's not the only one to feel this deep connection with a virtual being. Thus points are raised on humans' withdrawal from the everyday give-and-take of relationships, and the direction society is headed.

Performances

Showing a very different side, a smiling contemplative Joaquin Phoenix is effective as a regular guy stumbling through life. The ensemble is strong -- Amy Adams ("American Hustle") is back to her sweet self as his friend and neighbor, Chris Pratt ("Parks and Recreation") is a genial co-worker wearing the same high-waisted pants, and Rooney Mara ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") is his frustrated ex.

Scarlett Johansson fleshes out the curious Samantha with her expressive, sometimes raspy voice -- she is a character.

What works

With a subtle score by red-hot Arcade Fire and a realistic futuristic world presented through outstanding art direction, "Her" seems very possible and not such a curiosity. The original script is Jonze's first by himself, and attention must be paid -- provocative, colorful, sincere and one of the year's best efforts.

What Doesn't Work

For all its originality, "Her" is just weird enough to creep some people out. Those who find virtual sex icky, you are warned.

This is a movie that you won't soon forget, and it will be discussed for a long time. Repeat viewings may be necessary to unpeel all the fascinating layers.

3 stars out of 4

Director: Spike Jonze

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde

Rated: R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity

Length: 2:06

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