herReleased: 2014
Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson

The total isn’t as good as the sum of its parts


A few years ago I spent some time travelling round Europe, visiting a number of fabulous (and not so fabulous) places. One of the most confusing weekends was spent in Porto in Portugal. We had a wonderful afternoon in a bar, sampling different ports and eating lots of lovely food. The next day we toured the Sandeman distillery and spent some time taking nice photos of the Duoro River. Did I like it though? Not really. It was an experience where the individual elements were better than the sum of the day. I had exactly the same feeling after seeing Spike Jonze’s latest film Her. Lots of good stuff, but it didn’t all add up to the experience I would have expected.

Set in the near future Her is a love story about a man and his sentient operating system, Samantha. Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombley, a slightly awkward, sensitive man who is grieving the loss of his marriage. The release of OS1 – an operating system with artificial intelligence capabilities offers Theodore the companionship he has been missing. Slowly Theodore and his OS fall in love and begin a touching emotional (and as far as possible, physical) affair.

The concept of Her is fantastic – technology is taking over our lives to the extent that we don’t actually interact in person any more. How many of us have Tweeted or messaged our partners while in the same room? I know I certainly have. Can it be long before our technology has advanced to such an extent that we don’t actually need other humans in our lives? All of our practical and emotional needs will be taken care of by our phones and tablets.

The performances were really quite lovely. Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore was adorably geeky and portrayed both the sweetness of someone in the first flush of love and the bafflement of someone who realises their situation isn’t quite right. I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed a Phoenix performance this much in quite a while, having become bored of him during his self-indulgent “I’m Still Here” phase. Scarlett Johansson’s voice performance as Samantha was great, despite playing a grown-up Siri she had real emotion and depth of character.

The film looks great too – a dull vista brightened up only by flashy technology truly reflects Theodore’s character. It may be set in Los Angeles but I was reminded more of the Shanghai of Skyfall than the LA of numerous Hollywood movies. Jonze’s script is something of a minor classic and manages to be both touching and amusing.

Despite all of these positives though, Her just didn’t quite gel with me. I never became fully involved with the story, there was no emotional connection with any of the characters (perhaps that was a deliberately planned outcome by Jonze) and the end left me totally cold and wondering why I had spent nearly a tenner to see it. I’m not sure it was as original as it would like to think that it was – it was basically a hipster version of Weird Science and there were a couple of unpleasant moments. Theodore’s awkward date with Olivia Wilde, meant to reiterate his inability to make human connections, was just unnecessary and gave us a clichéd, unpleasant female character which added nothing to the narrative.

Like our weekend in Porto, all of the constituent elements in Her were very good but the whole experience wasn’t great.

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