Love in a digital era
Loves: Spike Jonze, quirky, creative movies, Chris Pratt
Likes: Scarlett Johansson, subtle sci-fi
Dislikes: Sadness, romance films
What makes Her incredibly compelling is the unique nature of Theodore and Sam's relationship, as Theodore is a frustrated, lonely artist writing heartfelt letters for others to use as their own words, while Sam is a newly-developed artificially-intelligent operating system that controls essentially all electronics in Theodore's world. Programmed to learn and grow, Sam, whose disembodied voice is ever-present in Theodore's earpiece, starts out as goofy and curious, but as she learns, and learns more about Theodore, a depressed guy whose wife (Rooney Mara) has left him, she becomes more like a person, and forms more of a bond with her owner. That bond is mutual, and soon blossoms into love between an operating system and a person. Naturally, this comes with complications, which manifest themselves throughout Theodore's life, with quite believable consequences.
For the majority of the film, except when he's interacting with other people, like his date (Olivia Wilde) and a long-time friend and neighbor (Amy Adams), Theodore is conversing with and enjoying the company of Sam, who visually, for the most part, is not in this movie. The way that Johansson, through her voice alone, makes Sam come alive, is quite astounding, while Phoenix is once again amazing, mainly on his own in a one-person love story. It took a special actor to make this role work, especially when emotions run high, but Phoenix masters it, making a slightly sci-fi story feel achingly human. The supporting cast is all great as well, particularly the always delightful Adams, who's as earnest as Phoenix, and an enjoyably restrained Chris Pratt as Theodore's co-worker. Some familiar voices make appearances also, like Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Jonze himself, in a cameo I missed the first time, but enjoyed all the same.
Speaking of Jonze, his work, and that of his crew, results in a gorgeous film that is visually inventive without resorting to artistic acrobatics. Though the movie doesn't take place in our world (at least as we know it today) it only feels time-shifted, not transmogrified into some space-station vision of Earth. That goes a long way toward giving all that transpires during the course of the film legitimate impact. Chief among them is the exploration of the idea that a person could fall in love with an operating system. Certainly, giving it the voice and playful attitude of Johansson stacks the deck in favor of such feelings, but when you see how the duo become a part of each other's "lives," it's easy to accept the appeal of a friend (and lover) who is always there when you need them and who lives only for you. It's pretty easy for anyone to see themselves in Theodore's shoes, which is good and bad.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is far from an aggressive track, as the film is more about emotion and atmosphere, powered by light atmospheric effects and an evocative score by Arcade Fire. Dialogue up front is crisp and clean, while the surrounds mainly busy themselves with ambient sounds and music, while occasionally featuring some dynamic mixing inspired by the action in the film. For the most part though, this track is about straightforward strength and quality. Honestly, the sound integrates so well with the film that you won't even notice it as a separate element.
Up next, is another Lance Bangs production, this time the 15:10 "Her: Love in the Modern Age." This one brings together an assortment of people who have seen the recently-completed Her to talk about love and relationships. There's nothing earth-shattering about what's said here in between artistically edited clips from the film, but it features a bunch of interesting people being pretty open and real, including Wilde, Charlyne Yi, Marc Maron, Bret Easton Ellis, James Murphy and Moshe Kasher.
Wrapping things up is "How Do You Share Your Love with Somebody" (3:56), a visual essay of the making of the film, featuring clips and behind-the-scenes footage, set to a passage from the film about what love means, with music from the score. It's very pretty, but it is a bit like a cut down version of the Rick Howard Project featurette.
Also included is an Ultraviolet stream of the movie.
The Bottom Line