Computer dating seemed like the height of oddball behavior to me. At least, it did at first. The thought of finding a connective bond with someone you don’t know and having a shared willingness to meet that person in real life, sounded bizarre. So did the promise of the computer dating site’s supposed science of creating an algorithm or matching system that they claim will lead you to your perfect soul mate.
When I first began to hear that “computer dating” was becoming a socially acceptable practice, I wondered if our dependence in technology had finally gone too far. For the record, I felt the same way about everything Steve Jobs has ever unleashed into our tech-obsessed zeitgeist. Anyway, I now know couples who met on internet dating sites, have had long lasting relationships that began in cyberspace, and even know those whose marriage began with a computer-generated courtship.
According to writer/director Spike Jonze, the next step will likely be having a relationship with your computer–actually falling in love with software that is tailor made for you. Taking place in the near future, Her shows us a lonely writer, Theodore (played by Joaquin Phoenix), setting up such a program. All he has to do is speak into his computer, explain how he feels about his mother, and, seconds later, the program has a lock on his personality-type and needs. Suddenly, “Samantha,” voiced by Scarlett Johansson, springs to life.
She, or “she,” begins her tasks by organizing his email and keeping him up-to-date on work. Not long after that, she keeps him up late into the night, speaking in a teasing, playful manner about life, their desires and what’s lacking in their lives. In very little time, he is love struck and begins dating “Samantha.”
Here’s a funny, sweet and refreshingly strange twist in a romantic comedy that turns conventions of the genre upside down. Scenes that are familiar in movie love stories, like a group date or the introduction of an intimidating, intellectually superior other man, are given clever spins that defy expectations.
In a season full of big, grandstanding, gimme-my-Oscar performances, it’s nice to see a film with relatable, down-to-earth, believably low-key acting. The cast plays the material completely straight-faced, making us believe Jonze’s most far-out concepts. Johansson’s adorable, laid-back line delivery is so bewitching that we understand without question why someone, or anyone, would fall so hard for “Samantha.”
Amy Adams is lovely and totally convincing, portraying a tender, similarly lonely co-worker of Theodore. Olivia Wilde has a brief but wily bit as Theodore’s stunningly transparent date. Theodore is presumably Jonze’s stand-in and Phoenix portrays him with conviction and vulnerability. Whether it’s Phoenix’s fearlessly emotional performance or the way Theodore was written, this pleasant but awkward nerd is interesting but hard to embrace. Similarly, so is the movie.
Most valuable as an intellectual exercise, as it expands conversations on the validity of computer-created feelings and thought that began in works ranging from Metropolis, Blade Runner and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Her is better equipped at creating post-screening discussions and debates on the validity of our feelings regarding true love, than shaping a full-bodied love story.
The ending could have used a little more closure, leaving us with more ideas instead of whimsical ambiguity. Visually, this is a rich work, with color pallets establishing the social contrasts in Theodore’s life. Following Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and, my favorite, Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze is still a wizard at blending brain teasing concepts with delicious eye candy.
While the film tickles the brain far more than the heart, it’s fun to see how far Jonze takes his weird but scarily plausible premise.
Score: *** (1-5 Star Scale)
Rated R/126 min.