The first thing I want you to know about Her, the best movie of 2013, is that it is not about technology. It's about how people relate, and right now we do a lot of our relating through the use of various high-tech devices. Her prominently features a high-tech device, but it's about the relationship between a writer that lives in LA and the person that lives in the device.
The second thing I want you to know is that the person in the device is, in fact, a person. She may have been designed by humans, but she is a reflective individual that questions her place in the scheme of things. Some reviewers have compared her to Siri, the Apple application that speaks to users. They are so wrong.
Filmmaker Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are) has crafted a sweet, sad, fascinating relationship story and a thoughtful piece of speculative fiction. Her is transcendent while remaining accessible. After directing two films based on Charlie Kaufman screenplays, and one co-written with Dave Eggers, Jonze has made a story all his own, an original love story that looks into the near future and sees a warm place where hearts still break, but hope remains strong.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a pleasant, vaguely melancholic fellow who works as a writer at BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, dictating artfully phrased messages for his clients into the voice recognition interface of his office computer, which reproduces his words in cursive that almost looks handwritten. Whether his job is poetic or creepy is open to debate, but it is undeniably feasible.
The quiet life of recently-divorced Theodore changes when he purchases the latest Next Big Thing in technology — the OS1, a self-aware computer operating system that learns and grows from its experiences. He opts for a female voice, and with that his relationship with the freshly sentient Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) begins.
Samantha is a wonderful companion — charming, inquisitive, playful and supportive, with instant access to an unimaginable amount of information. Theodore communicates with her via his earpiece. He shows her the world by carrying his old-timey-looking handheld computer in his shirt pocket where its camera-eye is able to peek out (he uses a safety pin to keep the lens high enough).
Amy Adams plays Theodore's best friend. Chris Pratt plays his likeable boss and Rooney Mara his ex-wife. They're all very good. Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson are great. Forget Phoenix's off-putting late-night talk show performance art, he's rejoined humanity and creates a soulful, sympathetic character. Credit Johansson for fitting perfectly into her role, even though her part was recorded after filming was complete, replacing Samantha Morton's meeker take on the character.
The near-future Los Angeles presented in Her is optimistic, a creative mix of exterior shots taken in LA and Shanghai. Interiors are colorful and inviting; burnished wood abounds. The fashions are credible, even the high-waisted wool pants. Arcade Fire provides music. Spike Jonze provides the aesthetic, which is refreshingly guileless. Free of ironic posturing, the film looks at love, loss and the resilient nature of the spirit, while gently following its speculative tale to a logical conclusion. Her is one for the ages.