Sunday, January 19, 2014

HER (2013)

Rated: R

STARS: Joaquin Phoenix,  Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara,  Olivia Wilde

DIRECTOR: Spike Jonze
GENRE:  Romantic drama

The barrier between human and artificial intelligence is transcended in the sweet but disturbing Her from Spike Jonze.  Is it a romantic comedy?  Is it a serious drama?  Is it a provocative commentary on the growing introversion and alienation in our society? Or is it a thinly disguised, potty-mouthed "phone sex" romp?  

It's a bit of all that.

Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore Twombly, and with a name like that, you know he's a nerd.  He wears dorky looking glasses, and beltless trousers that look like something you'd order off the back page of a magazine. He works as a letter writer/creator for people who are too lazy or too emotionally stunted to compose their own missives to family and significant others. 

The film is set in some unspecified futuristic time. Computer operating systems have the ability to speak, feel human-like emotions, and carry on a conversation in a breathy voice that sounds just like Scarlett Johansson. (Ms. Johansson, as the disembodied "Samantha," never appears physically in the movie. Bummer.)

Theodore is in the process of divorcing his estranged wife, Catherine (the barely recognizable Rooney Mara...guess I'm too used to picturing her as the butchy Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.)  There is a touching scene where he and Catherine are sitting together, and all that's left to do is for her to sign the papers and the deed is done. But she is hesitant. If only there were something they could say or do to turn things around. She affixes her signature anyway, and Theodore's fate is sealed. Because he's falling head-over-heels for Samantha--the perfect, intelligent, dedicated companion we all wish we could find. But computer operating systems'  personalities have the ability to grow. And just as it oft occurs in human on human relationships, Theodore and Samantha may be growing in different directions.

I'm sitting there thinking that Theodore is a real loser, because every chance he has to be with a real woman, he turns it down to preserve his love affair with a computer. But it's probably rare these days to find someone who hasn't become infatuated, or at least highly intrigued, by  the disembodied "voice" of an unseen someone they're communicating with on the internet. Follow the logical progression, and maybe Her isn't as far-fetched as it may the beginning.  

On the other hand, Her is making a not so subtle statement about  all the folks  who walk around with  their heads buried in their iPhones, eschewing the face-to-face contact that we all used to value before technology turned many of us into sleepwalking zombies with our heads up our butts. The people who, in their distracted stupor, will eventually step in front of a bus or tumble down a manhole. 

Darwin's theory at work.  

Grade:  A --


I've never been a fan of invisible partners. This loathing of mine began when I watched Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry Mouse in Anchors Aweigh. I don't include ghost flicks in this category as the ghost character usually appears in human form at some point. But HER takes it too far, way too far. To be honest, I don't know if the reason I despised this movie so vehemently is because the message is so disturbing, or I simply got bored with those endless close-ups of Joaquin Phoenix talking to a hand-held computer. In any case, it gave Tim and me lots to talk about afterwards. (Did I mention that I also don't like futuristic films?)

Even more unsettling than the concept of someone actually becoming enamored with a bodyless voice (who, by the way, tries to arrange a surrogate sex partner for them to share!) is the fact that HER has been nominated in four categories for an Oscar: Best Picture, Best Musical Score, Best Production Design and Best Original Screenplay. I even resent the writer/director Spike Jonze (aka Adam Spiegel) for ripping off Spike Jones' name! (Does anybody remember the bandleader's rendition of "Cocktails for Two" complete with honking horns and hiccuping?)

I suppose I should praise HER for it's timely message, i.e. people are so obsessed with tweeting, texting and hashtagging these days that eye contact has almost become obsolete. To me, that's such a depressing thought that I simply cannot bring myself to say anything positive about this meandering, maddeningly self-indulgent film.