MRR Review: "Her"

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

MRR Review: "Her"

Rating: R (language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity)
Length: 126 minutes
Release Date: January 10, 2014
Directed by: Spike Jonze
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a man on the brink of divorce from his lawyer wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), a woman he's still in love with and not quite ready to let go of. He spends his days working for a website called, a site where people go to have others write a letter for them when they can't find the words themselves or are too lazy to try. Theodore composes beautiful letters and poems for other people, but really all he wants is to write those same words to Catherine.

His best friend Amy (Amy Adams) and her husband Charles (Chris Pratt) worry about Theodore because he doesn't seem to be moving on from his separation. They encourage him to get out there and date again, but most of his dates go horribly awry. One blind date (Olivia Wilde) actually schools him in just how much tongue to use when kissing, which alienates poor Theodore and makes him just want to disappear from the world. Then one day, he finds a new computer operating system called Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson), and his life changes forever.

Samantha is actually much more than just an operating system; she is his virtual best friend and secretary, organizing his life and keeping him company like a real-life person would. Soon, the two begin to share long conversations and intimate details, which leaves Samantha wondering if she is actually having feelings for Theodore or if she is just programmed to feel this way. The answer to this question doesn't matter, because Theodore is already head over heels in love with Samantha, and she thinks she feels the same way. They forge a bond, and Samantha even tries to arrange a female surrogate for herself so that she can go out on a real date with Theodore. To the outside world, this relationship can't be real, but it feels real to Theodore and Samantha, and perhaps that's all that matters.

Spike Jonze has had such a prolific career directing music videos, documentaries, and short films that it's hard to believe that "Her" is just his fourth feature-length film. It was also the first time Jonze wrote a screenplay. This film has the feel of a Jonze film with its quirky characters, yet there's a downright sweet and gushy center to the movie that feels very different from the average Jonze film. It's as if he's stretching his legs to show what else he is capable of, which is why this very unconventional love story is arguably his most accessible film to date.

This accessibility is due in large part to the character development of the lead character, Theodore. Though Theodore starts off as a sad sack, mourning his broken marriage and impending middle age, he goes on a journey almost anyone can relate to. He feels as if he's had all the feelings and life experiences one can expect to have in a single lifetime and is looking forward to diminished returns for all future life encounters. This is similar to what a lot of people go through when they experience a big life change, so the pain Theodore feels is not only relatable, it makes him likable. People want to root for him, even as he falls in love with a computer operating system, a romance that seems doomed from the start. Phoenix makes this unlikely premise seem plausible and real, which is no easy task. In the hands of a lesser actor, Theodore might come off as a desperate creep, but with Phoenix playing the role, he appears as a lonely but loveable lug who deserves to be happy.

Some controversy has developed over whether or not Johansson's performance as Samantha should be eligible for acting awards, since she doesn't spend physical time on screen. Anyone who sees "Her" would undoubtedly see that even though Phoenix is the lead character, Johansson's performance is what really makes the movie. No matter which side of this argument viewers fall on, one thing is for certain—without Johansson, "Her" would not be the same. Awards consideration or not, "Her" is a fantastically sweet and entertaining movie that should leave moviegoers excited to see what Jonze has up his sleeve for his fifth film.

Rating: 4 out of 5