"}
Film

Her

Step aside, Siri

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

If you’re the sort who grouses in restaurants watching a guy wedded to his iPhone rather than engaged in conversation with his date, then Spike Jonze’s Her is right up your anti-tech alley.

Her is Jonze’s erudite and urgent wakeup call for our plugged-in times, a bittersweet tale that shouldn’t be dismissed as just another simple-minded pledge drive for Luddites. Set in the not-so-distant future, it’s a smartly attired, well-acted parable about loneliness, love and our failure to communicate compassionately in a technologically accelerating world where we can access anyone, anything, anytime, anywhere.

It takes a male fantasy scenario—sad-sack guy (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in drooling love with a hyper-helpful, throaty-voiced operating system (Scarlett Johansson)—and avoids turning it into a breezy sex comedy. And do note: Jonze’s story is very much told from the guy’s perspective, so expect a lively debate afterward, though no matter how you feel about the premise, you’ll have to agree it’s insightfully executed.

Jonze is an adventurous filmmaker who’s never afraid of falling flat on his face and whose risks often pay off. In Her, he is a wise observer of a modern conundrum. As in the past, this love story bucks genre specifications, not unlike Being John Malkovich—which he also directed though didn’t write.

As a screenwriter, he every so often flogs his point to death—especially an over-the-top sex phone hookup sequence. Mostly, though, he’s pitch perfect. The Arcade Fire soundtrack hits the right notes; same with the moderately surreal production design by K.K. Barrett and striking photography by Hoyte Van Hoytema.

The greatest debt he owes, though, is to his lead actors. Although they’re never onscreen together, Phoenix and Johansson generate more tangible chemistry than some actors who share hours of intimate screen time.

Phoenix, in one of his most accessible roles and sympathetic performances, plays Theodore Twombly, a semi-depressed writer who crafts soul-soothing letters for clients too busy or too crippled by their inability to communicate their affection to loved ones. Theodore’s letters, which he reads aloud with a sense of longing, are blushingly filled with intimate memories only couples should discuss. That someone pays a stranger to communicate these eloquently expressed sentiments is telling and tragic.

Like other characters in Jonze’s vision of the slightly futuristic Los Angeles (Singapore subbing in nicely at points), Theodore spends most of his time plugged into his phone, checking voice mail, news and celebrity photos. He does have a few friends, including a documentary filmmaker (Amy Adams, a bright spot with her frizzy hair and blunt observations), who develops a pessimistic view about love, as well as a happy-in-real-love co-worker played with jocularity by Chris Pratt.

Still reeling from the fallout of a broken relationship, Theodore doesn’t get out much. When he does go on an arranged date with a beautiful woman (Olivia Wilde, who seems to look askance—as I did—at how all the men in this film wear pants way too far above their waistline), it’s a disaster.

Theodore prefers the company of “Samantha,” a sunny operating system that speaks in Johansson’s distinctive voice. It’s easy to see why Samantha keeps Theodore up at night. She’s also quite unlike Theodore’s honest and realistic ex (Rooney Mara, doing the most with her limited scenes). “You’re dating your computer,” she says in disbelief.

Theodore doesn’t mind, since Samantha doesn’t require nearly as much maintenance. Or so he thinks.

Jonze takes this Twilight Zone-like premise and tosses some provocative challenges at it, making us feel uncomfortable as he questions whether genuine love can survive our expectations for instant perfection and gratification.

Her shows us how and why this disconnect happens. But it does more: It warns us not to turn into that texting person at the restaurant, the bottled-up guy who ignores the best, even if imperfect, live human being sitting across the table.

SVCR Don McLean
More Film...
Human Rights
New documentary focuses human rights film festival

For 17 years, the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival has explored far corners of the world, documenting injustice and hardship, but always with a bittersweet tang that the human spirit will endure and in some cases triumph. The festival’s overarching message is that we must approach…

more »
Neruda
Of history and legend

The conflicting forces that shape the Chilean national identity have been an overarching theme in the work of Pablo Larrain, whether it’s the festering chaos and violence of the Pinochet regime in Tony Manero, Post Mortem, and No, or the moral bankruptcy of the Catholic church in The…

more »
Julieta
A mother’s love

Julieta is a departure for the great Pedro Almodovar. There’s not a laugh in it. Instead, there is an engrossing story about a mother’s fractured relationship with her daughter, seen through a long arc, from conception to—well, you have to see the film to find out.

Is lack of humor a…

more »
Events
Today
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Farm-to-Table Trade Meeting

8:30am|Bellingham Technical College

Community Preparedness

2:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Baker Backcountry Basics

6:00pm|REI

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Putting the kick in cross-country

6:00pm

Dressings, Sauces and Stocks

6:30pm|Ciao Thyme Commons

Prawn Particulars

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Tides

7:00pm|Village Books

Books on Tap

7:00pm|North Fork Brewery

IGN Cascadia Trove
Tomorrow
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Community Coffee and Tea

9:00am|East Whatcom Regional Resource Center

Ukulele for Everyone

4:00pm|Everson Library

Garden Design Class

4:00pm|Blaine Library

Handmade Pasta Class

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Kombucha and Kefir

6:30pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Frankie Gavin

6:30pm|Leopold Crystal Ballroom

Unsettlers

7:00pm|Village Books

Nothing simple about it

7:00pm

Mike Allen Quartet

7:00pm|Unity Spiritual Center

Panty Hoes

9:00pm|Rumors Cabaret

Trove Northwood Steak and Crab
Thursday
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Incognito

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme

Pasta Faves

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Between Two Worlds

7:30pm|Make.Shift Art Space

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

see our complete calendar »

IGN Cascadia Trove Bellingham Technical College Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books Northwood Steak and Crab Bellingham Farmer’s Market