If you’ve been hearing a ton of hype about this movie, believe it. The wife and I hit the theaters for some much needed relief from the almost three year old, and decided to see Her, the new science fiction drama from Spike Jonze (who won the Golden Globes for the screenplay.) Simply put, this is one of the best sci-fi movies (along with Gravity) since the Children of Men or the highly-underrated GATTACA.
The movie works well because, as with the two above-mentioned movies, the science fiction is not over the top, as in Minority Report, for instance. It is the central conceit of the film, yet the sci-fi elements are subsumed in the story. There are not shiny or dirty over the top set pieces, as in Minority Report or Blade Runner — the Los Angeles of Her doesn’t look all that different from today, save for a few megastructures here and there. There are cars, and subways, and busses, and trains; no flying cars. The world looks like today, save for the fashions people are wearing and a few more advertisement displays. The technology is simply there and accepted, as nonchalant as a cell phone.
The story focuses on a melancholy writer who works for a company that creates handwritten letters for all occasions for their clients. Theodore Twombley is one of the better writers with a knack for empathizing with his subjects. He’s just come off of a breakup with his childhood friend and wife, Catherine, herself a writer and scientist who was much more successful than he. Lonely, confused, and without direction, Theodore just goes through the paces of his life.
Then he sees an add for the first “artificially intelligence operating system” for his computer. The OS, as they refer to it throughout the movie, quickly adapts itself to the users’ needs and personality. Theodore chosen a “female” OS, which names itself Samantha and quickly starts to help him straighten up his life. The two eventually fall in love. For all the comedic silliness this could have been played for (and there are a few agonizingly humorous “sex” scenes), Jonze takes the subject as seriously as he does the human relationships. And it works. The issues of being in love with something/someone without a body is a good analogy for the atomized society of social networks and texting on cell phones; or the distance inherent in the relationships people have through them.
The movie attacks these themes very subtly, mostly through visuals and casual conversation between characters. The various instances of the OS1 (including Samantha) grow and change at highly accelerated rates, there is a soft “singularity”, other other bigger ideas involving the nature of suprahuman intelligence, but these are incidental to the story of Theodore learning to love again and accept joy in his life.
Does it sound schmaltzy? Well, it would be, if it weren’t do deftly done. The screenplay is excellent, and the acting — even Joaquin Phoenix (of whom I’ve never been much of admirer) — is superb, low-key, and engaging.
Style: 5 out of 5 — it looks great, and though I found the soundtrack a bit jarring, it worked. Well written and acting. Substance: 5 out of 5 — there’s a lot packing into the movie that other film makers would have been more direct and extravagant with. Here, less is more.
On a scale of see it on Netflex, rent, matinee, or full price…full price.