BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC The movies have asked us to honor many unconventional romances — men and mermaids, men and androids, young men and senior citizens, and women with monsters. Movies demand we suspend our disbelief and it is almost magical how we can project our emotions into such scenarios but Spike Jonze’s Her, which chronicles an affair between Joaquin Phoenix’s lonely Theodore and the voice on his phone, asks us to suspend our belief over what may be a romantic bridge too far.
In a future that appears just days away from right now, Theodore has split with his wife and spends his nights playing video games in the chilly confines of his sleek high-rise apartment as a tinkling piano on the soundtrack suggests a tender gloom. By day he expresses a lot of emotions as a personalized greeting card writer, but none of these emotions are his. The depths of Theodore’s emotions are finally plumbed by his phone’s new operating system, which supplies him with the virtual attentions of a female voice named Samantha, supplied by Scarlett Johansson. Can this pair find love despite existing on different planes? (Talk about long distance romance! [rimshot]) More importantly, can they make us care?
Jonze is a director with great gifts, especially visually, and he imbues the film with a bittersweet sense of yearning aided by a very committed performance by Mr. Phoenix. But Jonze isn’t as interested in dissecting the pathology of loving an inanimate object as he is by seducing us with the deep connection between Theodore and Samantha. It is not enough that we believe in the pair, Jonze really wants us to shed a tear for the love that will never triumph.
Looking at the avalanche of praise the film has received, it appears that it might be me who doesn’t love his iPhone enough because despite such engaging stars I found myself unable to root for these two lovers getting together. I was reminded of the creepy 2002 documentary Guys & Dolls, about men in love with those life-sized silicone “Real Dolls” and the ramifications are too unhealthy and pathetic to imagine a happy ending for anyone involved. While Theodore and Samantha’s intimate pillow talk can be oddly moving, her virtual self, endlessly supportive and amused, lacks the necessary humanness to stir this viewer’s affection. As seductive as these male fantasies can be, the film seems blind to the fact that the most exciting thing about woman is that they actually exist. Her seems transfixed in its own fantasy, a spectacle more off-putting than attractive, though I’ll acknowledge that you and Siri may feel differently.