Review: “Her”

Her2

I love my laptop. I will have had it for six years in March and it hasn’t left me yet. But it’s a different kind of love than the way I love my family and girlfriend. It’s a love based on functionality. What have you done for me lately? This white-framed MacBook hasn’t crapped out and that’s enough to want to keep it around, even though we have our fights, like when Safari quits in the middle of me writing a movie review. I’m sure it’s because I had too many tabs open, so I’m working on being a more caring user of tabs.

This isn’t real love. It’s one-sided. What have I ever given my laptop, besides hundreds of thousands of typed words and a thousand more personal photos? I begrudgingly clean out my email inbox from time to time. My laptop is basically a purse: I make it carry things I use a lot or not at all and, trust me, I’m a memento hoarder. But I’m more excited to upgrade to the new model, which is how Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) felt when he bought the new operating system in “Her” and before they became lovers.

In Spike Jonze’s not-so-distant depiction of future Los Angeles, dating your operating system is about as taboo as wearing yoga pants today. So it’s not supposed to be surprising that Theodore falls in love with his OS named Sam (Scarlett Johansson); after all, she is tailored to fit his needs like a missing puzzle piece.

Who falls for whom first is a little unclear, but their sexual relationship stems from a bad end to a good date. “How would you touch me,” asks Sam in her raspy, provocative voice. My eyes were wider than I ever remember them being for other films, when the screen goes dark and Theo brings Sam to orgasm. Johansson’s voice is wild during this most-shocking sequence and it’s extraordinary considering the actress’ improvisation, while sitting in a dark recording studio doing this scene. Jonze’s direction cannot be understated either. He got exactly what he wanted out of her. The scene is raunchy by nature, but Jonze captures the sensuality of the exchange perfectly.

In the scene that follows, Theo is standing awkwardly in front of his computer trying to sort out how he’s going to approach his first conversation with Sam since they had sex. He’s over-thinking it because Sam’s not that kind of girl — “I’m not going to stalk you,” she jokes, which is ironic considering what she is. Sam is a dirty girl, though. Theo takes her on a Sunday Adventure to the beach and she brings up the idea of seeing a human body for the first time and being confused as to why parts are where they are, like if your butt hole was in armpit, for example. “I wonder what toilets would look like,” Theo observes. “How would anal sex work,” Sam wonders. This catches Theo so off guard, myself included, but it’s such a crackup no pun intended. In these ways, we appreciate that Jonze wrote this script as a comedy. He brings a fresh, original voice to cinema, while he would be recognized most for some uncredited roles in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Moneyball” and “Being John Malkovich.” He wrote an directed the film adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are” (2009).

“Her” is a story of love and learning to love again. Theo forgot how after his longtime lover (Rooney Mara) filed for divorce and, as early as the first sequence of the film, his close friend Amy (Amy Adams) expresses interest in pulling that excitable, fun side back out of him. Amy is a cute, fuzzy-headed, nerd girl, working on the Beta version of a video game about parenting. “You’ve failed your children. You gave them too many sugar phosphates,” she explains. Both Amy and Theo are suffering from lost long relationships that sucked the fun out of everything. “We’re only here briefly. And while I’m here, I wanna allow myself joy. So fuck it,” Amy says. Phoenix and Adams are a natural pair on screen and every time we get a scene with Adams it’s refreshing because she’s a joy.

I can’t get a looming question out of my head, one that I know Jonze, the creative mind behind “Her,” knows the answer to whether it’s prevalent to the film or not. What does Theo imagine Sam looks like? I wonder because I thought I had my answer when Sam picks a surrogate stand-in for her body — a skinny, blonde, European type — however, Theo’s rejection of her suggests he imagined Sam a different way. Does she resemble Catherine (Mara)? Or might she actually look like Amy?

It’s impressive how true to life Jonze keeps this mind-boggling relationship in all of its ebb and flow. Jonze asks you to buy-in to this idea that someone can love an operating system and he smartly utilizes Amy to explain its normalcy, but that can be a challenge. It’s easy to miss things when you’re having trouble believing it. “Her” doesn’t try too hard to make you like it; you either will or wont. But if you’re anything like Theo, it’s only a matter of time before Sam grows on you.

“Her”: ★★★

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