Spike Jonze doesn't make a feature film very often but when he does, it usually goes right up my list of favourite movies. Being John Malkovitch is, to this day, a film I'm still a big fan of, as is Adaptation and Where The Wild Things Are, still one of the best films about childhood out there in my opinion.
From its trailer, Her looked weirdly soppy but its intriguing premise looked like it might have much more to offer and, seeing as the film is just over two hours long, it was bound to have a little more to it than just a quirky guy-meets-phone love story. The film stars the ever-great Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a lonely dude going through an emotionally draining divorce (Rooney Mara plays the ex) and looking to move on. The story is set some time in the near future which is why Theodore works for a company which writes hand-written (but actually dictated) letters on behalf of random people who hire their services. Also, in the future, moustaches and high-waisted grandpa pants are back in fashion, apparently. That was always going to happen, let's be honest. Theodore buys a new operating system for his computer which, we're told, is artificially intelligent and is constantly learning and evolving. Voiced by a perfect, never-seen Scarlett Johansson, this "OS", calling itself Samantha, forms a bond with Theodore which transcends the physical as they first become friends and then engage in a full-blown relationship. It's a great premise and, as the basis for a sci-fi film satirising the technologically growing times we live in, it should have been the perfect idea to build on.
Unfortunately, Her never so much builds on that idea as it does stretch it out to a needlessly long amount of time. There was a really heartbreaking romance and a biting satire supposed to be going on in this movie and yet, by the end of it, you'll be left to write a more effective version of Her in your own mind. Both Phoenix and Johansson, especially the latter, do a great job bringing their characters to life, but as a sci-fi film and as an exploration of its premise, the film is a missed opportunity which, on top of it all, makes very little sense. Perhaps the wit and natural manic talents of Charlie Kaufman could have helped mould a more creative script. This is hardly a kids movie and yet the characters in Her constantly act like children. This is surely intentional as it fits into the whole modern satire thing but if this is also, indeed, meant to be the exploration of an adult relationship, there's a disconnect there because you'd expect these people to act childish in all aspects, not only when the film wants a cutesy montage about Theodore and Samantha hanging out and playing yukulele. It's hard to identify with the romance when the couple's quirkiness is this forced and uneven. The characters in Being John Malkovitch were certainly flawed, odd and twisted, and their situation was just as far-fetched, but they still felt very much human. Theodore and Samantha have human moments but feel alien.
The movie doesn't quite progress in the way you'd expect it to, which should be a good thing but its development is nowhere near as inventive and clever as it thinks it is. We're introduced to this actually pretty funny video game which Theodore plays with the help of holographic technology so when the whole problem regarding Samantha having no body pops up, you'd expect him to link his computer to that projector and have Samantha come to life as a hologram or something to that effect but this is never even mentioned. Also, Samantha doesn't even try to draw what she would want herself to look like even though we know for a fact she can draw. There's a whole range of things you'd think the couple would try before hiring some random woman to be their "surrogate". Plus, with Samantha who is able to read full books in seconds and who learns really quickly, you'd think she'd come up with better solutions than prostituting some stranger.
Her is meant to be a fable and in fables the details of the ride aren't quite as important as the end moral but here the moral is the starting point of the film and we don't really go anywhere too relevant after that: Theodore's end realisation is one we come to almost instantly so the impact that it has on him is lost on us since it comes so tiresomely late. A lot of ideas are never fully explored in the film and that leaves little to hang onto both intellectually and emotionally. Ultimately, you're left with an occasionally cute and quirky little flick which sadly falls flat as a romance, as a satire, as a science fiction film and definitely as a comedy, since it stops trying to be funny about halfway through. It's not a complete misfire and you'll definitely enjoy parts of Jonze's movie but the fact that the film is getting much more praise than the director's previous, superior works is a tad unfair.
Her had everything going for it: a director with a flawless track-record, an excellent cast and an intriguing surreal premise. Although some will, no doubt, find Her as adorable and moving as it desperately tries to be, it's hard to deny that it could have said all it needed to in a 10 minute short. For a two hour-long film, frankly, this needed to be fuller, more involving, more consistent and, perhaps, slightly less happy with itself.
Not bad but overrated.