RB score: 6/10
Yeah, in school terms, that’s kind of a D-. RB is not among the critics who went absolutely wild over this film. 94% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes – it clearly struck a chord with many. I didn’t have a bad time watching it, mind you, which is what tipped the balance over a score of 5. The low grade is really for the excessive hype and the lack of delivery to equal the type, on the part of writer/director Spike Jonze. Combine that with some glaring plot holes that seem lazy as opposed to creative inspiration, and a story, that, let’s face it, really doesn’t go anywhere, and I have a hard time understanding what people love about “Her”.
Our protagonist is named Theodore Twombley, gently played by Joaquin Phoenix. He composes love letters for a company that caters to people who don’t know how to write letters to their significant others. He makes enough money doing this to afford a pretty nice condo set in some futurisic city (plot hole #1 – if sappy writing pays that well a lot of us should be rich) that is supposed to be Los Angeles but is so clean, shiny and sterile in appearance (plot hole #2) it no longer looks like a city, more like a really cool graphic. It’s population dense and pristine at the same time.
Even though his employer is essentially a dot.com internet site, Theodore commutes to the office to do this writing (plot hole #3). Just your average, typical corporate drone of the future, using the voice activated commands on his phone to delete email on his way to work. He is going through the last stages of a painful divorce, portrayed mostly in flashback scenes with actress Rooney Mara, and some undeniably good acting from Phoenix. You certainly can’t accuse him of overacting, in fact he underplays Theodore Twombley to the point where the character is difficult to sympathize with at times.
There are some typical divorced-person developments, including going on a blind date and spending time on internet dating sites. Oddly, he fantasizes to, only naked pregnant women, and this is never explained. The only “normal” human element I get out of any of his activities is the platonic friendship with his neighbor, played by Amy Adams. All the othe female characters, including the OS he falls in love with, are so strange it makes me wonder if Jonze hates women. One of the flashback scenes shows Theodore and his ex-wife with a baby. What happened to this child? (Plot hole #4 and by far the most irritating to me), Did the baby die, did she ever exist? Is this why he only looks at nude pregnancy pics online, because they didn’t have a child? We’ll never know as there are zero clues or explanation given.
One day he installs a new operating system, named Samantha and voiced by Scarlett Johannson, that “learns” how to mimic human thoughts, emotions and behaviors. This is where I feel the movie’s potential is most wasted. So Samantha keeps track of his appointments (not original… hello, Microsoft Outlook), wakes Theodore up for work, and becomes his confidante. Soon they explore the city together and take a walk on the beach, with the camera lens of his iPhone peeking out of his shirt pocket so that his imaginary friend oops excuse me, OS can “see” what he is seeing. I guess that’s the best Jonze could come up with since he couldn’t very well have them running over a field to meet each other, to demonstrate how their love is growing. Of course, Theodore and Samantha must consummate their relationship, which thankfully, along with another TMI, laying in bed at night scene, is mercifully filmed in the dark so we don’t have to watch.
All too soon, familiar cracks develop in this romantic bond between the man and his computer. Samantha becomes more demanding and Theodore starts to feel controlled. In one scene she says petulantly, “We haven’t had sex in three weeks.” Theodore replies that this is normal for relationships. If this is the future, we are all in trouble. If your OS gets its feelings hurt you have more than just relationship issues to contend with – you can’t get your email, a modern tragedy.
However, relationships with computers apparently have additional barriers beyond the physical. The knowledge that the operating system doesn’t just love only him hits Theodore like a brick. He is shocked to find out Samantha is coversing with 4000 others and is in love with some 600 odd of them. Why not? Developing personality or not, she isn’t a person… she’s technology. Yet, instead of exploring the science fiction aspect of this story, and possibly making the movie more interesting, Jonze returns to the romcom-ish aspect by making Samantha oddly controlling at the same time.
One scene in particular where Samantha attempts to bring their relationship to another level, and Phoenix conveys, in his consistent, passive presentment, Twombley’s tormented soul, was about the only place in the movie where I felt sympathy for him. Testament to skilled acting here because as mentioned, the acting style is very understated yet he does an oustanding job of letting the audience into the world of such a gentle spirit and the inherent unfairness of this spirit feeling so much anguish.
Plot hole #5 occurs when Samantha goes through all this writings and sends them off to a publisher who then writes to say he is going to compile the letters into a book. Some might find this to be a tad intrusive, no matter how good the intention, from either a partner or a machine. Theodore is touched and overjoyed, and why not, he’s going to be a published author, the often unfulfilled crown jewel of writers everywhere. But his letters are supposed to be confidential – what happens when one of Theodore’s customers reads their personal love letter in a best-seller?
Weaknesses such as that in the screenplay really can’t be overcome by even the most visually appealing, futuristic design.
I’ve got news for you, Spike Jonze – falling in love with a sexy voice, not original. People becoming more involved with their computers than with other human beings – not original. How to transcend this into something more insightful, is what “could have been” for this movie, and it kind of makes my blood boil he didn’t do more.