Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

January 23, 2014

'Her' is a brilliantly odd love story

By Ryan Maddux and Andy Stuckey
Greensburg Daily News

---- — We continue our look at Best Picture nominees with Spike Jonze’s Her (R).

In the not-so-distant future an introverted divorcee (Joaquin Phoenix) begins a new romantic relationship with his brand new sentient computer operating system — voiced by Scarlett Johanson. Rooney Mara, Amy Adams, and Chris Pratt costar in the film.

Andy: At first glance, the premise of Her seems like it belongs in a mindless comedy. The ridiculousness of the concept of a man falling in love with his computer probably would have been impossible to pull off in a realistic way as recently at ten years ago, but technology advances at breakneck speed. In the age when everyone knows Siri’s name, it is not hard to imagine an AI that is advanced enough for reasonable people to see the blurred line between human and machine. Part of what makes Her so brilliant is that it treats the subject matter as a very serious love story, and skips most of the obvious jokes about getting romantically involved with an operating system.

Ryan: Her is not only one of the best films of the year, but also one of the more resonant. Granted, the premise of the movie seems far-fetched, but Jonze presents the movie in such an earnest manner that one buys into the romantic narrative. Phoenix shines as the lead and his dorkiness and sincerity also help solidify the romance that blossoms in the movie. But at the end of the day Her is much more than an unusual-yet-believable 21st century romance.

The movie tackles age-old questions dealing with the nature of love, romance, courtship, marriage and what is real, but frames it in a contemporary fashion with how modern technology effects (or will effect) these notions of human behavior with regard to how we relate to one another.

Andy: Her opens with Phoenix’s Theodore at work, for a tech company called BeautifullyHandWrittenLetters.com. The concept is that people pay the website to write personal, “hand-written” letters to friends or loved ones. This technological spin on what used to be one of the most personal and organic human activities succinctly outlines the movie’s major premise. Our culture is redefining what words like “personal” and “humanity” mean, probably on a scale of time that is much faster than most of us realize. While modern life will likely not play out exactly as Jonze has presented to us here, we will likely be wrestling realistically with some of the major questions the film asks. And we will probably be doing that sooner rather than later.

Ryan: For me the reason Her works so well is that Jonze presents the movie with broad strokes of ambiguity. The pastel look of the film with its clean/ streamlined environment could be any major American city in the not-so-distant future. But even beyond the look of the film, the narrative unfolds in a way that requires reflection after the credits roll. I’m still trying to process the film. But I think it should be pointed out that the movie is much more than a romance. This is not a film that can be put in one specific genre (and that’s a good thing). Honestly there are a lot of sci-fi elements (especially with regard to technology) that dominate much of the film. There are also spiritual/ religious threads in the picture that further propel the narrative along.

Again, I give a lot of credit to Jonze and company for crafting a movie that feels straight-forward and unburdened, but that is also clever and thought-provoking. Her is a real cinematic achievement.

An extremely well-crafted film, a bevy of superb performances, and themes that will likely haunt the viewer for days to come all add up to Her being one of the year’s best films.

Final grade: A-.