A man works in an office designed for little people and discovers a portal into the mind of real life character actor John Malkovich… In an adaptation of a book about flowers, the premise of the book is immediately abandoned for Nicolas Cage to play the real life screenwriter of the movie and his completely fictional twin brother… A feature length adaptation of a 40 page kids book that’s mostly pictures. I don’t know if ‘high concept’ is the correct phrase to describe the work of Spike Jonze, or if ‘bat shit, nutso crazy’ is more accurate. Whatever it is, his latest effort fits in well, as a man falls in love with his phone, in Her.
In the not so distant future, Joaquin Phoenix is that man, Theodore Twombly. He writes seemingly heartfelt, personal letters on behalf of others for a living, which is a direct contrast to the emotionless, shut off life he leads outside of work, ever since breaking up with this wife (Rooney Mara).
Already reliant on his phone and computer games as a way to avoid any interaction with real people, apart from his old friend Amy (Amy Adams), he knocks things up a notch when he downloads a new operating system for his phone that boasts the most sophisticated artificial intelligence ever. Named Samantha and voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Theodore’s phone quickly becomes a close friend and trusted confidant, before moving on to the next level. The level of love and sustained moments of gettin’ it on.
Not many film makers could turn this concept into a believable movie. Charlie Kaufman gets a lot of credit for coming up with the wackiness of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, but what about the bloke who manages to reign in the wacky and turn them into movies with genuine emotion that we can somehow relate to?
It’s making this story believable that makes Her so impressive. From a writing and directing standpoint, Jonze somehow makes the goofy concept of “Man falls in love with Siri” surprisingly realistic and understandable. Sure, the husky, sultry voice of Scarlett Johansson is a good start, but it’s a lot more than that. Jonze makes the relationship believable because he makes it so real.
And what makes it so real is Jonze’s decision to inject it with the good and the bad of a real relationship with a real person. Samantha might be a computer program, but for every dream girl attribute that you could imagine the designers of artificial intelligence might try to emulate, she also has plenty of negative emotions. Happy and adoring one minute, petty and jealous the next. And the very human Theodore Twombly is just as quick to indulge in his own pettiness and jealousies.
This, combined with the world Jonze creates in which the idea of people falling in love with their operating systems is quickly accepted, means the gimmick is just as quickly over shadowed by a legitimate love story that feels just as real to the audience as it does to Phoenix’s character.