Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Review: Joaquin Phoenix Gets It On with His Computer (Scarlett Johansson) in “Her”


Spike Jonze’s “Her” created a lot of buzz over the weekend. Jonze (real name Adam Spiegel, of the Spiegel Catalogue family) has only made three other features in the last 15 years: “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” and “Where the Wild Things Are.” So “Her”– with Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Amy Adams, and the voice of Scarlett Johansson — was bound to be of interest anyway. It was the closing night film of both the New York and Hamptons film festivals.

“Her” explores old school boy meets girl movie themes in a high tech world, finding new depths (and failure) in advanced virtual romance. Phoenix is a mustachioed bespectacled Everyman named Theodore Twombly in some future time whose job is writing compelling personal letters. Imagine a moment when that skill is so marketable, it affords this expert a slick apartment with elegant Los Angeles views! He’s really good at penning them; so emotionally resonant, they are a far cry from Hallmark cards.

It comes as a surprise then, that with real women, as in Catherine played by Rooney Mara, he’s somewhat at a loss, not really able to communicate tenderness. Lonely, estranged from his wife and unable to connect with sexkitten (the voice of Kristen Wiig), he starts up a relationship with the O. S. “Samantha” who he can engage by putting a button-like plug in his ear. They talk sex, travel, double date, and experience system failure.

In the department of odd relationships, this one goes almost as far out as Ryan Gosling and the blow up doll in Lars and the Real Girl. But in many ways Her is a logical extended vision of anyone who wonders how electronics are affecting the generation that devotes more passionate attention to their iPhones than with one another.

The movie’s final image is Theodore–having had some unexpected closure with “Samantha,” catalyzing a satisfying finale with Catherine, seated beside his gal pal played by Amy Adams, a deeply felt reminder that even in an age of depersonalizing technological advance, human touch rules.

Oscar material? A long shot at best. But does that matter? “Her” is a charmer for the key demo. Oscar voters may not relate to it. But I suspect a lot of other people will.


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