Spike Jonze’s Her is a fine piece of filmmaking. The plot seems somewhere between silly and trite on first glance. A lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) is going through a divorce, depressed. He works for a letter writing company, composing intimate letters for family members who can’t do it themselves. Like most of us, he spends his time with computers, playing video games (including a game with a comically profane cartoon character), checking his e-mail, etc. He hears about a new operating system that is personalized to you. It talks, holds conversations with you, etc. He gets it. Scarlett Johansson is the voice. They fall in love.
This might seem like cliche. Jonze isn’t the first person to critique society by showing how we can’t handle human intimacy so we resort to technology to fill that gap. Think about all the time we waste online, including me! OK. That in itself could be a very boring film. But he goes much deeper. First, the film is very, very funny. The cartoon character I mentioned earlier. A ridiculous phone sex scene with Kristen Wiig. A super mom video game developed by Phoenix’s friend, Amy Adams (who again does just a great job and has really become one of our finest actors). Second, rather than be a freakish thing, everyone accepts her! He goes on double dates with his friends. Three people and an operating system. Everyone gets along swimmingly! Of course, complications result. The OS has an endless capacity for self-exploration. Will she be satisfied with her human quasi-lover?
Being a Jonze production, it also looks outstanding. It is supposed to be downtown LA at some point in the present/future, but I understand he took at least some of the exterior from Shanghai and superimposed it. Phoenix has a top floor apartment overlooking the city, leading to beautiful shots. How he affords it on his salary writing letters in a cubicle is an unanswered question, but maybe the near future is a utopia of good living in everyday jobs. A video screen shows an attacking owl while Phoenix is sitting around. And Jonze places the camera right on Phoenix’s mustached face. It’s mostly a solo acting performance, except for the scenes with Amy Adams (and a few others) and Phoenix is very much up to the task; as a modern Method actor, his intensity or disappearance into a character can overwhelm other actors, but not here when he doesn’t really interact except with a voice.
Just witty and funny in a classically uncomfortable way. Does it matter that he falls in love with an operating system? Don’t know. The film really doesn’t judge either way.