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321 of 350 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2014
Her is a very unusual movie with some interesting observations about the way in which people are becoming more reliant on technology. It's set in Los Angeles in the not too distant future, and tells the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). He works as a writer, producing flowery love letters for people who who lack the ability to express their feelings. He's good at his job.

Unfortunately, Theodore's own relationship is failing and he is soon to be divorced from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara). When he buys a new computer operating system, his life changes dramatically. The program adapts to his personality and needs, and evolves at a tremendous rate. This screen persona names 'herself' Samantha, and is voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

To his surprise and delight, Theodore finds that he is able to connect with Samantha in ways that he never could with a physical person. Communication is everything in his relationship, and he finds it easy to express his deepest thoughts and feelings to Samantha. At the outset, it's probably a form of self-analysis, but as the relationship develops, it's clear that Samantha is real to Theodore.

I think modern technology is under the microscope in this movie, and director Spike Jonze is observing how so many people are open to sharing their feelings on the Internet. It seems that many of us are less guarded and willing to risk revealing our secrets when we don't have to do it face-to-face. That's certainly true for me. The movie also deals with the irony of Theodore's success in writing about other people's feelings while struggling to communicate in his own personal life.

Theodore's best friend, Amy (Amy Adams), is the only real person he feels comfortable talking with about the things that really matter in life. These are the kind of friends who are there for each other when they are most needed, no matter how hard it is to listen.

I don't want to spoil any of the surprises, so I'll stop talking about the plot. The story is intelligent and thoughtful in its observations, and Phoenix is exceptional as Theodore. If you're used to seeing him cast as a villain, you might find his performance refreshing. He's vulnerable and rather likable, and it's easy to empathize with the things he experiences. Despite being nominated for Best Picture, Her won't win any awards. But I'm not sure that I've seen a better acting performance all year. Phoenix has to show considerable range in the role, and does it without ever seeming as if he is acting. Amy Adams plays one of the lovable characters that we see in most of her movies, and she's perfectly cast. I could imagine myself spending the rest of my life talking to her character.

The movie raises plenty of questions about modern society. What constitutes a real relationship? Is physical contact essential? Can we exist without technology?

I found myself thinking of the Ender's Game sequels (Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind) for much of the story. If you have read them, you'll know that Ender's most trusted friend was a computer program that he accessed through a jewel in his ear. His friend Jane is not too dissimilar to Samantha. I urge you to read the whole series if you enjoyed the Ender's Game movie.

As the movie ended, the audience quickly filed out, and people began accessing their cell phones. As for me, I rushed home to share my thoughts with you. We live in the virtual world far more than some of us are willing to admit.

If you like original ideas, good acting, and thoughtful stories, go and see Her. If you need a fast-paced story with plenty of action, give this one a miss.

Overall score 4.5/5
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101 of 120 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2014
Spike Jonze's "Her" is a wonderfully inventive articulation of the human longing and need for intimacy. Set in a Los Angeles several years in the future, "Her" is the story of a melancholy everyman, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), who makes his living writing personal letters for others, and whose divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) is pending. He lives in the upper floors of an airy high-rise condo overlooking a vast vertical sprawl. He spends time with a neighbor and longtime friend, Amy (Amy Adams). A new operating system is introduced that promises to meet every one of its user's needs. Theodore purchases this new OS for his computer and chooses the female voice, which is named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Lonely after his separation in a networked, yet isolated world, Theodore and Samantha fall in love.

I will begin with the setting of time and place because these are vital in establishing verisimilitude. "Her" characterizes future Los Angeles as a streamlined, clean city with efficient rail transportation. The depiction of personal computing is both advanced and plausible. People complete recognizable computing tasks--check email, date online--via a small earpiece, or a small bifold iPhone-like device that fits in a shirt pocket. While there are flourishes of future life--a profane child in an interactive video game, men fashioning wool high-waisted pants and pastel oxford shirts, a humorous take on online dating--Jonze's direction emphasizes realism, evident in a straightforward shooting style, minimal cuts, and long takes. Soft, natural light highlights large, mostly empty rooms that the camera shoots from afar, emphasizing solitude.

The movie's central conflict is Theodore's loneliness, and his desire to re-connect after separating from Catherine. He is one of several writers at his job busily writing personal letters. Despite the advanced technology and network connectivity that Her depicts, people are physically isolated, as illustrated by subway scenes in which passengers hurry to their destination while communicating with their devices, yet rarely making eye contact or engaging others. Moreover, Theodore's employer profits from people who contract their interpersonal communication.

"Her" works because Theodore and Samantha's relationship is depicted as man's urge for intimacy. "Her" treats their relationship empathetically, and not as unseemly. Theodore's affection for Samantha is genuine, but his feelings are not without conflict and doubt. The question lingers about whether this relationship is a proxy for a flesh-and-blood relationship, or a legitimate romance. Still, the movie finds any emotional connection Theodore achieves as a positive. See how other characters--Amy; Theodore's co-worker and his girlfriend--react when Theodore confesses that his new girlfriend is an OS. The movie would not work if Samantha were not a fully drawn character, or if she was not invested in the relationship. Johansson gives Samantha humanity, emotion, and empathy, using just her voice. Phoenix's earnestness is a similar asset, providing the audience an entry point for this digital romance.

As he did in "Being John Malkovich," Jonze excels at creating a realistic, universal story in an imagined world. "Her" is an examination of that most basic of human desires, to connect with another person, to love. It does not root for Theodore to recognize the folly of intimacy with a computer, nor to dump Samantha and engage again with a flesh-and-blood person. Rather, "Her" is about the transcendence of intimacy in a society that is often a lonely place. At the theater where I first viewed "Her," when the credits rolled the gentle glow from mobile phones being turned on was like a blue sunrise, a reminder that perhaps the society portrayed in "Her" is not that far into the future.
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39 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2014
One of my main problems with this modern world that we live in is that people don’t know how to talk to each other anymore. Due to social media and the cell phones, and the tablets and the computers that help us get through daily life, we have forgotten how to connect with one another on a human level. This is only one of the grand ideas explored in Spike Jonze’s ‘love story’ “Her”.

Set in the near future (maybe 20 years from now), Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a writer who is left withdrawn and deeply saddened by his recent divorce downloads “the first artificially intelligent operating system”, and receives an OS assistant in the form of Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Way more than your average Siri, Samantha is sweet, soulful, smart and frighteningly human. She asks personal questions and wants to be a real part of Theodore’s life. Eventually, they develop a romantic relationship, if you could call it that.

Theodore has always had trouble committing in relationships. Not that he’s going to go out and cheat at first chance, but you get the impression that he is really irked by spending the remainder of his life with one person. He’s sensitive but has trouble communicating his feelings. This ended his marriage with Catherine (Rooney Mara). The only consistent female relationship he’s ever had is with his onetime girlfriend and longtime friend Amy (Amy Adams), who is also ‘friends’ with her operating system.

The mood of “Her” reminded me alot of “Lost in Translation”. The metropolis of Los Angeles has never been more gorgeous than it is in “Her”, but it makes a point to show how isolated people are becoming in the world these days. This is, of course, set in the future, but it isn’t that far off at all. In this universe, computers are almost completely controlled by voice commands. People wear earpieces that navigate their computers, cell phones and operating systems. People are constantly wandering the streets, but it’s rare that you find someone who isn’t walking by themselves, talking to their operating systems or having emails read to them over their little earpieces.

If you think about it, people are becoming more and more isolated in the world we live in today. This kind of stuff could absolutely be a reality one day in the near future. With technological breakthroughs becoming more and more advanced and ostentatious, the technological universe explored in “Her” could easily become a reality one day, and that’s a sad thing.

It’s a mood piece. There’s a generally gloomy and somber aura around the film, but it’s consistently fascinating and entertaining. We go to the movies because we want the filmmaker to take us somewhere. Jonze creates a complex and fascinating world that will leave you with many internal questions about yourself and others around you.

Theodore experiences such joy carrying Samantha around and talking to her, even taking a vacation with her, and it makes the viewer so sad, because this guy is really just talking to himself, basically. The viewer should feel sorry for him, but they should also just truly understand him. We are all looking for something or someone to make a human connection with, and “Her” reminds us that it’s hard and sometimes a loser’s battle. But it’s always worse to be completely alone in the crowded, yet desolate landscape of everyday life.

Initially, I was extremely off-put by the premise of “Her”. I thought it sounded ridiculous. I left the theater not feeling that way at all. It’s a character study about what the heart wants/needs after it’s been broken. It’s an odd love story, but it’s full of powerful messages, and questions that will haunt you long after you’re home from the theater.

Grade: A
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2014
The "hook" that drew me to see "Her" in theaters was simple: the interesting "man falls in love with smart-phone" plot that was advertised in the trailers. While viewing the film, however, I discovered that this is a much deeper movie than I ever thought possible, dealing with the true nature of relationships and the very essence of humanity itself.

For a basic plot summary, "Her" (set in an unknown future year) focuses on the character of Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix). Theodore is an extreme introvert who, despite having the skill to create loving "couples notes" as a profession, is completely lost in the real world of relationships. Amy (Amy Adams) is basically the only person in the world that he can be himself around, and even she is "taken". As such, Theodore purchases a new computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) that is basically "Siri X 1,000". An unintended result of the new operating system (in this case named Samantha) is that many users find themselves becoming romantically involved with the artificial intelligence. This is exactly what happens to Theodore Twombley.

Like I said, what initially drew me into this movie was the more science fiction-esque "man falls in love with smart-phone" concept. In this day-and-age of Hollywood sequels and repeated ideas, I found it refreshing that an entirely and completely original concept was at play here.

What I did not foresee, though, was just how "deep" this movie would go in describing the essence of relationships. "Her" has to walk a very fine film-making line because its entire concept often times seems utterly ridiculous (how can a person ever fall in love with a computer?!). However, every single time the viewer may even have a moment where they think that, the movie proves that the emotions could indeed happen and be very real. Again and again in the theater, I kept thinking that certain events were going to transpire, only to be surprised (in a very pleasant fashion) at how different and unique situations actually played out.

Basically, this is the type of movie that "thinking people" (and I mean the REAL deep ponderers) will revel in. If you are looking for action or adventure, look elsewhere or be severely disappointed. Instead, "Her" is about subtlety and frank discussions of romantic relationships and emotions. Yet, at the same time, it isn't so over-complicated that it turns into psychological mumbo-jumbo either.

Overall, then, I can see why "Her" was nominated for "Best Picture" at the 2014 Academy Awards. It should, IMHO, win "Best Original Screenplay" in a cinch. In fact, the only reason it can't be a serious contender for the bigger awards is because, at times, director Spike Jones gets really weird (some scenes are quite bizarre and maybe are even a little out of place in such a thoughtful treatise). Other than that, though, "Her" is a gem for the "thinkers" among us; those who loved to be challenge in the cinema while also being entertained.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) composes beautifully hand written letters for a living. He is lost in his work and world of futuristic electronic gadgets. His wife (Rooney Mara) has filed for divorce. He buys the next best thing in computers, an operating system that thinks for itself. At this point the weird sets in as Theodore develops a strong emotional attachment for his OS Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) as does Samantha for him.

The film doesn't evolve into the jealous computer comedy I had hoped for, but rather examines the lives humans have developed for their computers and how it effects our human relationships; how we actually prefer to be with our electronic devices more than each other. It reminds me of those family reunions when we all get together in the same room, and everyone is on their own computing/smart device.

The film gives a whole new meaning to "computer dating." This is some what of a chick flick, in that it deals with emotions and relationships. It goes deep into attempting to understand ourselves.

This movie is on the arty side. A long two hours as it is character driven. Not for everyone.

Parental Guide: F-bomb, sex, nudity
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40 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2014
Spike Jonze's cautionary tale about artificial intelligence doesn't break any new ground thematically, but boy does it ever hit home. I'm pretty sure the vision on display here was Steve Jobs' idea of Utopia: all of us walking around with plastic nuggets jammed in our ears while listening to our computers reading our emails to us as we take efficient public transportation to our non-essential jobs and back again to our apartments located in densely populated downtown areas. (No driving cars, because that gets in the way of our tech time, and the broadband is more reliable in the city than in distant sprawling suburbs.) The movie's supposed to be set in the near-ish future, maybe 20 or 30 years ahead, but someone should've disabused Mr. Jonze of the notion that everyone in L.A. will be taking public transportation in 2040 or whatever. Anyway, I'm sure Jobs would've also gone gooey at the idea of the total connectivity to our "operating systems", as shown here. In fact, this movie is about one man's love affair with his operating system. Not such a far-fetched notion, let alone a futuristic one, if you've ever overheard conversations at a Genius Bar at your local mall.

And while I'm glad that some Millennials, such as the young person whose review is featured on the front page, feel that someone *finally* made a movie for their generation, please understand that Jonze is pretty heavily critiquing the personal habits and behaviors of a world gone completely bonkers over their electronic gadgets. I wish I could go the "get-off-my-lawn" route and blame the Kids, but everyone from ages 4 to 84 is walking around with their phones or tablets in their hands as if they were security blankets. Jonze spends a lot of time observing his extras on the street, plugs in ears, nattering away like lunatics to the air or to a small plastic device in their hands. Hint: these images are not meant to be complimentary. The Millennial reviewer says, "'Her' will go down as one of the definitive films to depict Millenials" -- man, I hope not. When I'm an old man, you guys will be running the show. Please tell me there's more to you, and that you're going to do something else besides spending all day looking at your "devices", or, as shown here by Joaquin Phoenix's sad-sack character Theodore, embarking on emotional and erotic relationships with your damn computers. Well, who knows, maybe we'll all just stop procreating. Cockroaches will inherit the earth, ruled by their new A.I. overlords.

The truth is, I doubt we're even within a century of forming emotional relationships to A.I. of any sort. Ask any gamer, and he'll tell you we're a long way off from intelligent artificial intelligence. As such, Phoenix's relationship with "Samantha", the OS voiced by Scarlett Johansson (heh, keep dreamin', fellas!) is probably meant to be more of a compelling story concept rather than a plausible near-future thing. Coming SOON to a theater near you, however, is the convenient sex-chat service Phoenix uses with Kristen Wiig. Of course, people do this already with keyboards; good-looking people presumably help each other get off on Skype. However, I'm not how "futuristic" this is supposed to be: phone sex with computers instead of phones? I'm pretty sure this is already happening.

Anyway, the movie moves serenely along, and we get the usual A.I.-becoming-human tropes: "Samantha" starts getting jealous. There's the hurt, the anger, the I-need-to-be-alone time, and finally the you-know-what?-I'm-SO-over-it phase. Even Better than the Real Thing, as Bono once sang. Meanwhile, Phoenix takes his device on outings to his goddaughter's birthday and to picnic lunches with friends, and no one is in the least judgmental, not even female friend Amy Adams, who has her own OS chum. Only ex-wife Rooney Mara is irritated, as she should be. Jonze sets up the relationship between Phoenix and "Samantha" as pretty ideal, or at least typical. It's no less fulfilling, emotionally or sexually, than "real" relationships. And that's where Jonze runs into his problem, which is how to end all this. Without spoiling anything, I can safely say that the crisis involves the same techno-spiritual babble we've seen in other films on this topic. Something about the Great Borg in the Sky. YOU know -- Star Baby Meets the Matrix. I didn't buy it.

Western Civilization has been concerned about artificial intelligence since the advent of mechanism and the Industrial Revolution. 200 years ago writers worried about the new machines running themselves. Diabolical robots appeared in Grade Z movies in the Fifties. Setting aside the tonnage written on the subject in the science fiction genre, the movies alone have given us "2001", "S1m0ne", "Westworld", "A.I.", heck, even "Bicentennial Man". Too many to count, let alone remember. Many of those films showed the fear of technology running our lives. What makes "Her" stand out is that, having long ago ceded our daily routines, we're now worried about technology breaking our hearts. Not an intellectually vigorous picture, but a thought-provoking one, all the same. 3 out of 5.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2014
I wanted so badly to like this movie. The concept seemed intriguing and relevant, which is what motivated me to buy the ticket and sit through the film's duration waiting for interesting things to happen. But not very much did. There just didn't seem to be enough plot elements to fill up a whole film. Also, I kept noticing missed opportunities for greater dramatic tension. For example, most of the human characters just seemed so accepting of the human/operating system relationship dynamic, some friends even going on a double date with Joaquin Phoenix's character and his technological love. It would have been much more interesting to see conflict and tension between our (anti-)hero and others who might feel threatened by his behavior. Something to force this sad, soulful loner to stand up for something.

This film did do a good job of pulling me into its world, a not-to-distant future where urban dwellers wear high-waisted pants, live in giant buildings and seem lonely or bored. The sense of dystopia was vague and muted rather than in-your-face like in a Mad Max-type film. This for me was the main pleasure of the movie, visiting this hypothetical world and thinking about how realistic it actually seemed. Ultimately, this view of the future is what kept me in the theater while the plot failed to hold my attention.

Much has been said about Joaquin Phoenix's performance in Her, and he really did seem to inhabit the Twombley character. He also repeatedly reminded me of Johnny Galecki playing Leonard on Big Bang Theory (in his most depressive moments), only without the humor. In retrospect this says a lot for my perception of this film - that it could have actually functioned better as a comedy. Think about it - the soulful loner falls for his phone while his almost-that-nerdy friends try to figure out what to make of it. One tries to follow suit with his own phone, another ridicules him, etc. His parents roll their eyes and try to set him up with real girls. Etc. THAT would have been an enjoyable film.

Bottom line, Her was a film that could have been so much more than it was. Billed as an Important film about how people interact with increasingly complex technology, Her ultimately doesn't have all that much to say about that relationship and its broader social impact. Joaquin Phoenix's performance doesn't really redeem the film very much, although it was well done. If you want to see a very interesting and witty film about coping with loneliness, I recommend the heartfelt Lars and the Real Girl. That film covers similar ground to Her (minus the technological aspect) but does so in a way that is very authentic, uplifting, and most of all legitimately interesting.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2014
HER is an intense piece of work, with a fabulous central performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a lonely writer who spends all day at the computer writing letters on other people's behalf. This helps deflect attention away from the meaninglessness of his own life, living alone in a sparse apartment in a Los Angeles tower block, and unable to come to terms with his impending divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). He invests in an Operating System as a way of counteracting loneliness, and develops a passionate relationship with Samantha, the voice of that system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). This ingenious situation provides the pretext for director Spike Jonze to embark on a searching analysis of what being "human" represents, and whether it can be separated from the "virtual" life of the computer, personal listening device, smartphone or operating system. Hoyte van Hortema's stunning photography of the Los Angeles landscape conjures up a forbidding world of gleaming yet soulless skyscrapers that dwarf the human beings on the sidewalks. The interior sets are colorful, stylish yet soulless, especially Theodore's apartment and workspace. Both the interiors and exteriors conjure up a world devoid of human contact, where people seldom if ever disclose their feelings face to face; and when they do, they inevitably misunderstand one another. Hence their only refuge is to talk to their operating systems, either on a personal or desktop device. There is one remarkable shot in the film, as Theodore sits on the steps outside a subway station, where Jonze's camera pans the passengers coming out of the subway, and all of them are engaged in conversations with their devices. No one, it seems, has sufficient courage to talk face-to-face. Theodore enjoys some moments of intense pleasure talking to Samantha, yet in the end he has to consider some serious ontological questions. HER is a remarkable film, whose serious subject-matter, combined with stunning designs and cinematography, make it a worthy candidate for an Oscar.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Some films just come around that explore facets of our being with such organic tenderness we can’t help but nestle into their storytelling arms and rest our heads on their delicately detailed shoulders and just fly away with them, to a part of our souls that sing so sweetly despite the lingering heartbreak we know we are bound to experience. Heartbreak laced with hope that the future, while seemingly bleak, is not as daunting as we imagine it to be.

‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’.
‘Lost in Translation’.

And now, we have ‘Her’. These are all films that, despite their quirky sides or their detailed (and effective) use of gimmicks all bare their hearts on their sleeves in a remarkable natural tone. There are no unnecessary dramatics, no processed manipulations. They all embrace the fluidity and organic nature of life itself to create real grounded stories about relationships that blossom and flourish and ultimately come to an end and yet they are never broken, shattered or dire. There is a beautiful message of hope, of life awakening even in the midst of despair because as human beings, we can move on, we can grow and we can survive.

‘Her’ tells the story of Theodore. Theodore is a lonely man. He is separated from his wife, who has filed for divorce, and spends his days writing letters for other people and then concludes his days at his apartment, alone. He’s haunted by a past that included a happy relationship filled with soulful interactions and a bond that felt spirited and upbeat, but something happened and it all ended and now Theodore finds it impossible to connect with anyone anymore. That is, until he meets Samantha. Samantha is an OS (Operating System) who adapts to the needs and desires of Theodore. It is immediately apparent that this isn’t a normal OS, but that Samantha is something special, at least for Theodore. She communicates with him, far beyond her normal duties, and becomes his friend. She understands him and draws him out and soon she begins to help him become the man he once was and had shelved for so long.

Samantha may not have a body, but she has a soul that runs deep.

There are so many things that impress me so much about ‘Her’ that it is almost hard to narrow them all down and put them into one review, but I must say that the single most impressive aspect of the film was the way that the relationship between Theodore and Samantha was handled, from the perspective of those outside of the relationship. This could have easily become one of those tense subjects that brought scorn or judgment from the supporting cast, but the way that Spike Jonze basically dismissed the strangeness of their relationship was remarkable. No one cared. Theodore’s friends never even batted a lash at it. Amy was wholly supportive, for she too was bonding with an OS. Paul, upon finding out that his friend’s girlfriend was an OS, doesn’t even question it. He just carries right on with his invitation to double date. The normalcy that was placed on the relationship helped ground the film, or at least ground the audience into the real dynamics of the film. This isn’t a film about a man’s relationship with an OS, this is a film about our human need to communicate, to bond.

I think that this aspect of the film makes the ex-wife, Catherine’s, reaction to Theodore’s relationship all the more haunting.

By using technology (and the advancement of such), Jonze created a world that speaks to us on so many levels. For me, ‘Her’ highlights that very innate desire to connect with someone, but ultimately the fear of actually doing just that. The fact is that sometimes it is hard to really connect with the people in front of us. Staring at someone, even someone we love, can make true communication difficult. We can feel their eyes, their judgment, their developing assumptions and yet when we take away the visual, some of the fear and anxiety strips away and we become a freer entity. ‘Her’ questions whether or not these devises we so often fall back on are a hindrance or a help, and in the process it explores themes like love, loss and hope.

‘Her’ depicts a depth of love that is not often found in films, but a love of real meaning and significance because Theodore and Samantha find a love that rests in the real person within and is not defined by a physical attraction.

But there is more to this story, as the final act will show.

Yes, Jonze’s masterful script (such a beautiful Oscar win) is so full bodied, for it builds up, tears down and then rebuilds (from a source that is born from the ashes) in a way that feels so real and relatable and construction. I love when a film can be constructive in ways that are completely unexpected.

Speaking of full bodied, these performances are just beautiful. All of the attention this year has been centered on Scarlett Johansson’s stunning voice work, a work that defied stereotypes by transcending the absence of body and giving us a very moving and intimate look at a woman discovering herself, day by day. While Johansson was tremendous, I feel that not enough attention has been given to Phoenix, who just continues to astound me. His performance here is marvelous. So intimate, so structured in this loose and organic way. He just folds into every scene with an air of abandon that I fell so deeply in love with. You can sense the guilt, fear and depression that haunt him when he is away from Samantha, and you can sense the freedom he feels when he is in her figurative arms.

This movie and all it represents is just beautiful.

For me, this is clearly one of the masterpieces of 2013. And A+ with honors. 2013 was, for me, a truly exceptional year that only grows and grows the more I think of it. There are few years in recent memory that delivered such a bounty of inspired, inspirational and breathtaking films. I can’t shake them…any of them. ‘Her’ is certainly one of the very best.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2014
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

Spike Jonze's 'Her' has a touch of Asimov-inspired sci-fi but it's much more 'rom-com' overall. Set in the not so distant future, what I like about Jonze's vision is that it's quite plausible. There are no flying cars or aliens walking around but rather people even more addicted to their computers. The protagonist is Theodore Twombly (nicely played by a low key Joaquin Phoenix) who works as a copywriter of intimate correspondence for people unable to compose original tomes themselves. Twombly purchases the latest computer operating system (OS) infused with artificial intelligence. He assigns a female voice to his 'companion' who initially is designed to organize his day. But soon the artificial companion names herself 'Samantha' and proves to be quite engaging, becoming Twombly's confidante and 'lover' of sorts. Twombly in turns falls completely for his virtual girlfriend, and finds himself reacting less with human companions.

'Her' really is a robot without any corporeality. Normally, this would be a distraction since having only one person interacting with a voice-over does not work very well visually in a film. However, the dialogue that Jonze has written for Samantha is excellent and it's delivered impeccably by Scarlet Johannson (interestingly enough, the film was originally shot using actress Samantha Morton's voice but Jonze decided Johansson was far more effective in the role).

Although Jonze's idea of an operating system suffused with artificial intelligence is a clever one, it becomes apparent that the premise itself cannot carry an entire movie. Instead, the artificial relationship between Twombly and Samantha evolves into a satirical peek at how a relationship between two humans rises and falls. At first Samantha is completely supportive as Twombly confides in her about his impending divorce to his wife, Catherine, as well as going out on a failed date with an attractive woman he meets online. Later, they have a verbal sexual encounter and soon Samantha suggests utilizing an actual human surrogate to enhance their relationship. Twombly is unable to pretend with a stranger (Isbabella) who attempts to make love to him as Samantha whispers in his ear. Twombly begins to have his doubts about continuing with Samantha but his good friend Amy, encourages him to try and make a go of it, as she also has broken up with her husband and is now also interacting with another OS with artificial intelligence.

The relationship between Twombly and Samantha has a real ring of truth to it and reminds me of some of French director Eric Rohmer's films that dissect the complex relationships between men and women. Like Rohmer's artful narratives, some may find Jonze's dissection to be a tad bit lugubrious but for those who are patient, epiphanies can be uncovered, if one cares to look for them.

There is also some tension in Jonze's plot, as we're also still waiting to find out how Jonze resolves his tale between man and machine. The ending is a comic one when Samantha reveals that she's met another operating system based on the mind of a famous physicist, who she falls for. Before you know it, Samantha admits to Twombly that she's been talking with 8,316 others, of whom she has fallen in love with 641.

Samantha has no choice but to 'move on', leaving Twombly and Amy to commiserate with one another. The ending should be considered a relatively happy one in that Twombly has been apparently cured of his artificial intelligence infatuation and will probably be spending more time with humans in the foreseeable future. This could have been a much more dark, 'hit you over the head' type of film, with Jonze pointing out the dangers of modern day man being seduced by ever improving technology. Fortunately, he refuses to take such a route and opts for verisimilitude. Even an OS (echoing her human counterpart), is not adverse to embracing 'change'.

Ultimately, Jonze's initial premise of an artificial being evolving into something a lot more human, is really a one note idea. It's the relationship that develops between the two principals that hooks us to the end. Phoenix is really playing the 'straight man' here and it's Johannson, with her changing moods, that gives the film its broad flavor. As mentioned before, the compelling dialogue compensates for the lack of visual impact, when Phoenix and Johannson interact.

Something still must be said for the cinematography which creates a vision of the future which is not that much different than today. Jonze's 'Her' indeed is a cautionary tale but with the sagacious Samantha, there appears to be hope for humanity. Ironically, humans here don't take the lead; it's the machines--I feel sure that Samantha will ultimately end up with her 'equal', leaving humans to fend for themselves.
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