Love virtually believable in 'Her'
By Bill Goodykoontz
Published: Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
It's the age-old story, sort of: Boy meets operating system, boy falls for operating system, operating system falls for him and so on.
Like much of Spike Jonze's brilliant “Her,” the familiar is tinged with the fantastic. It's a love story with science-fiction trappings and both elements work. The science fiction supports the story without overpowering it, and the romance is genuine — even if it's virtual.
Plus, the acting is fantastic, even if we never see one of the main characters.
The movie is set in Los Angeles in the near future. Technology has advanced to the point where, for instance, people don't type information into computers. They just speak to them and let them do the work.
Jonze, who also wrote the script, doesn't pass judgment on the place technology has taken in people's lives, at least not in blatant ways. Rather, we have Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), whose job is to write love letters for people too busy or disconnected to write them themselves. No time for romance? Outsource it.
Theodore is good at his job. But he is separated from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), and his loneliness is palpable. Then he sees an ad in a magazine about a personalized operating system that runs on computers and smartphones. He gives it a try, and thus begins his relationship with a system that calls itself Samantha, with whom he speaks.
This isn't grabbing your iPhone and asking Siri for directions. This is an intelligent system that is capable of carrying on a conversation, learning and growing with the user. Yes, it can even participate in phone sex.
It's a remarkable idea, made all the more so by an incredible off-screen performance by Scarlett Johansson. She gives Samantha more humanity than Catherine (“He's in love with his laptop,” she tells a waitress).
Despite Catherine's withering remark, Jonze avoids making Theodore's love for Samantha a freak show. Phoenix's performance also helps sell the idea. We see Theodore's loneliness and desperation. Yet, through his work writing letters we see his capacity — and hope — for true love.
Complicating matters is Samantha's ability to learn and grow.
Their relationship mimics a real-life one. It's kind of funny to see Theodore dancing around at a fair, holding his phone, showing her what he's seeing through the phone's camera. Yet, his joy is so infectious, we easily overlook the weirdness of the situation.
Of course, if happiness can be rendered so realistically, so can heartbreak.
“Her” is an outstanding movie, in part because of its originality, but also because of its execution. It's an honest-to-goodness romance like we've never seen before, one that knows it's not important where we find love, just that we do.
Bill Goodykoontz of The Arizona Republic is the chief film critic for Gannett.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Printing delinquent tax list pays off for Highlands
- Orpik rises to occasion as Penguins take down Capitals once again
- Panthers free agent safety headed to Steelers
- Rural Ridge residents question NRG’s plans for landfill
- Chamber event targets small business, health care
- Obama budget puts more money into nuclear cleanup, not locks and dams
- Memo confirms VA Pittsburgh officials knew of Legionella threat early on
- Minorities crucial to filling Marcellus shale gas drilling jobs
- Forward supervisors OK park funding proposal
- Review: ‘Once’ charms as it breaks rules of musical theater
- Penguins notebook: Letang skating, but no return set