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her - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A-
Acting: A
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+

Has Joaquin Phoenix ever been this expressive? As Theodore in her -- the lack of capitalization seems to be a pointed practice by marketers -- his disheveled hair, ever-mobile eyebrows, and even his mustache combine to make you feel every nuance of his emotions, with which Theodore is bursting, just beneath his carefully controlled, withdrawn exterior. His ex-wife (Rooney Mara) ironically accuses him of avoiding "real emotion," but Theodore is really all emotion, and there is something seductive about his pervasive vulnerability.

So, several months after a separation with his wife but before finally taking the step of signing the divorce papers, Theodore falls in love with his computer's new operating system, which the moment he asks for a name, calls herself Samantha. Samantha is voiced by Scarlett Johansson, never once seen onscreen as anything but a desktop or a mobile device. But if there were any voice that would convey palpable sexiness, as well as vulnerability, all on its own, it would be Johansson's. The movie truly would not be the same without her.

This is sort of a 21st-Century Electric Dreams, but with far greater thematic depth. Writer-director Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are) tackles modern obsession with mobile devices, certainly nothing new in movies, except here he does it with subtle poignancy. This isn't so much a satire of modern living as it is an exploration of love in an age so digitized it's difficult to forge real connections. Samantha is so advanced an artificial intelligence, however, learning the joy of emotional discovery -- who's to say this connection isn't real?

The setting is a future Los Angeles rendered glutted with skyscrapers, patching together shots of many different world skylines to create the look of a megalopolis. Nearly every shot from inside Theodore's high-rise apartment seems to show a different view of skyscrapers, often regognizable L.A. ones. But instead of the dark, acid-rain L.A. of Blade Runner, here the world is filled with sunshine -- albeit with several shots of smog (a dose of realism). Theodore may be mopey, but his world is bright, especially when he falls in love again.

This is an uplifting movie, one that leaves you feeling elated at the end. This is a delightful surprise given the many dark places it could have gone, but Spike Jonez smartly avoids the too-common trap of rendering an A.I. computer a villain. Samantha is never any more vindictive than a jealous girlfriend might be -- she's ingrained with humanity -- and her evolution is surprisingly realistic for such an out-there concept. Although some scoff -- such as the ex-wife -- Theodore still discovers that he is not alone in emotionally bonding with his OS. Even his best friend Amy (an always wonderful Amy Adams) has found a new best friend in hers, thereby allowing some oddly rational support for his relationship with Samantha.

Samantha is still a computer, though, and reaches a sort of Singularity in the context of interpersonal relationships. This is inevitably going to leave humans behind. But even as Samantha discovers her capabilities to be so much greater than those of anyone on an Earthly plane, she is infused with compassion. Johansson's performance as Samantha is so layered that she makes even the weirdest scenes work, such as "having sex" with Theodore (most of which is just audio with a black screen) or hiring a "sex surrogate" as a means of attempting physical intimacy with him.

Samantha's naiveté is what makes her such a compelling character, even though she's just a machine. A.I. struggling with the implications of its own intelligence has been explored before, but only here is Samantha hyper-aware even of the struggle itself. This alone makes it easier to accept her as a sentient being, even if technically she is not (that, perhaps, is up to the viewer to decide). She eagerly pursues a relationship with Theodore even as she grapples with what the associated feelings mean, which is what makes this a universal love story even though one of the parties is a computer.

Spike Jonez has crafted an unusually illuminating and touching love story that is both unlike any other, and reminiscent of any time anyone has fallen in love. Peculiarly insightful about the very nature of falling in love, it will warm the heart of anyone who knows the conflicting emotions that come with that unique form of self-discovery.

Joaquin Phoenix is in love with 'her'.

Overall: A-
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