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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ speaks to technology-tethered times

1/16/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

Joaquin Phoenix stars in “Her.”
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Before the showing I attended of Spike Jonze’s “Her,” there was a filmed message telling us to shut off our cell phones. It’s the message that begins, “Our world seems to be overrun with technology.”

In “Her,” the main character, Theodore, is not as much overrun with technology as he is swept off his feet by it. He falls in love with a computer operating system (OS). I can’t say my feelings for the movie were as strong as his for the OS, however. “Her” is one of those films that’s impressive in many ways but, like the object of Theodore’s affections, not easy to embrace.

The movie is set in a lovely nondystopian future, where there are lots of open spaces, beautifully designed buildings and men’s slacks that start around the belly button. Everyman Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) works for a company that creates personal letters in the voices of its clients. (Need to write a letter to Grandma? Leave it to them.) It’s a good job for Theodore, who’s a sensitive, creative soul. But he’s also a lonely one, as his divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara) is nearly finalized.

But into his life comes Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), his computer’s new OS that’s designed specifically for him. Samantha is smart, witty and caring. Except for not having a body, Samantha is alive, and her spirit reboots the sad sack Theodore.

If this were the typical sci-fi tale, evil masterminds or some sinister virus would enter the picture about now. But Jonze, directing his own script, will have none of it. This is a love story, mainly deviating from the norm by taking place in the future and by Samantha being the product of artificial intelligence. Sometimes “Her” feels like a Mad Lib form where all the blanks are filled in with the appropriate words, an interesting but not always exciting exercise.

But accepting “Her” for what it is, you’ll find pleasures in the movie. Theodore, as played by Phoenix, is someone to root for, and the joy he feels in his relationship with Samantha is endearing and real. Johansson, who is no stranger to movie voice work (you surely remember her as Princess Mindy in the “SpongeBob” movie), is boundlessly appealing as the OS, and Amy Adams gives a warm and wistful performance as Theodore’s friend. Most of the laughs in “Her” are courtesy of a neat videogame of the future that features a cute, obscenity-spewing blob.

We live in a time when half the population seems married to their cell phones, and “Her” speaks to the perils and promise of technology. Samantha may become a symbol of what awaits us in the field of artificial intelligence, much like HAL of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Of the two, there’s no question which would be a better companion on a long space trip.

The movie, currently in theaters, is rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity.

Three Stars (out of four)

 

Craig Marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.

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