Spike Jonze is one of those filmmakers that seems much better in theory than reality. His films are all fiercely original and are revered by cinephiles everywhere. But, there’s a detachment to everything he’s made that’s impossible for me to get past. It’s like you’re watching his films from a distance. There’s no intimacy, even when there’s intimacy on screen. “Her” is no exception.
Set in the near future, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) works as a hand-letter writer, though he speaks what the letters should say, going through a divorce. Lonely, he learns of a new computer operating system that has artificial intelligence, making it more than just a generic, robotic OS. After answering a few basic questions, like how is his relationship with his mom, his OS takes the form of Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She’s fun. Perky. Attuned to his needs. So much so, she begins to fall for him. He falls for her. What happens is one of the strangest love stories. Ever. In the history of the world. Maybe not the world, but it’s pretty strange.
Theodore and Sam do almost everything together. They even go on double dates with Theodore’s friends. Even a friend/former flame of his, played by Amy Adams and looking a lot like a blonde version of Cameron Diaz in “Being John Malkovich,” is becoming bff’s with her OS. The two even figure out a way to consummate their relationship.
The trick with “Her” is that since Samantha has no body, Jonze uses extreme close-ups of Phoenix’s face when they’re talking. It feels like half the film is just his face talking to an unseen being.
Pinning down what kind of film “Her” is no easy task. Is it an off-beat love story? A weird rumination on people’s ability to love? Or maybe Jonze is just commenting on the increasing laziness of people. Theodore writes letters for other people as a living, yet he doesn’t even write them. He just tells a computer what to write. Most of the people inhabiting this world don’t even seem to care about their appearance. One thing running throughout “Her” is a lack of effort on people’s parts to do anything, be it talk to another person or drive a car.
Perhaps Jonze is right, that one day somebody will fall for a computer system. Our lives are becoming increasingly isolated and plugged in, so isn’t that just the logical progression of things? The film even goes so far as to suggest that instead of actual parenting, people will want to play video games where you are a parent. This is all fine and well, so long as the jacked-up pants all of the men wear don’t come into style. Nobody needs to wear pants up to their belly button.