Other Media Review

Movie Review: Her


Title: Her
Written By: Spike Jonze
Publication Info: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Joaquin Phoenix movie poster for Her a close up of Joaquin Phoenix's face looking bemused and sort of sad.Her is a new film written and directed by Spike Jonze.  It’s bittersweet, funny, sad, strange story about a man and an artificial intelligence that fall in love.

Her is about a lonely man, Theodore, who finds it almost impossible to communicate with people but who makes his living by writing letters on behalf of other people.  For instance, if you have trouble voicing your emotions, you might hire Theodore to write a letter for you to give your wife on your anniversary, saying how much you have loved her all these years.  Judging from how nice Theodore’s apartment is and the swankiness of the office, it seems to be a booming business.  Theodore is reeling from an impending divorce.  A friend refers to him having been fun once, but now he’s deeply depressed.

Theodore gets a new operating system, who names herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).  Samantha can learn from her experiences.  At first, Samantha is a helpful, friendly tool.  She cleans up the inbox, she reminds Theodore about his appointments – she does what you’d expect something like ‘Siri’ to do if Siri were much more advanced.  Incidentally, if you have Siri, ask her about the movieShe’s not a fan

As Samantha learns and grows, she becomes Theodore’s friend, and then his disembodied lover.  But the first huge conflict comes up when Samantha seems to have her own needs and desires and demands.   Theodore is unassuming to the point of being nearly invisible, but that doesn’t stop him from wishing that women (and, given his lack of male friends, probably everybody) would exist at his convenience.  It seems to be not so much that he wants to dominate them, as that he’s unable or unwilling to resolve any conflicts so he wants to avoid conflict at all costs – and that means avoiding people who might want something he doesn’t want.  As soon as people express a desire of their own (a goal, a need to express a feeling that makes him uncomfortable, a kink) he pulls away from them. 

One of the attractions of Samantha is that her whole life revolves around Theodore.  She’s always there, always ready to help out, never offended when he has to go offline, but always waiting when he comes back on.  It’s exciting to see Samantha discover a whole life of her own.  She makes friends, both human and non.  She develops hobbies and interests that have nothing to do with Theodore, although she likes to share them   It’s fascinating and sometimes exhilarating and sometimes sad and scary to watch Samantha and Theodore try to navigate this transition from her as a fantasy to her as a person to her as basically a person with superpowers.

Her is set in the near future.  I expected a dystopian world in which everyone is estranged from all of humanity, but this is actually a pretty cheery version of the future.  Theodore is lonely, and so are lots of other people, but not everyone is lonely in the epic sense of being unable to make human connections.  Kids have birthday parties and people go to the beach and everything is pretty much the way it is now, only with better-developed operating systems.  Frankly the only thing I saw that was bizarre was the absence of people of color, with the exception of one Asian woman and an African-American busker who has no lines.  This movie is set in Los Angeles.  Where are the Asians and the Latinos and the African-Americans?   Even if they aren’t characters, they should at least be in the background.  I’m not saying that would be acceptable, but I am saying at the very least it would look like LA. 

This movie features a vulnerable, raw performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore and an unforgettable turn by Scarlett Johansson as Samantha.  Amy Adams is one of Theodore’s few friends, Olivia Wilde is a date, and Rooney Mara plays Theodore’s estranged wife (they are in mid-divorce throughout most of the film).  Obviously Scarlett runs away with the movie.  She runs away with every movie she’s in, whether she’s in a catsuit in Avengers or snapping her gum in Don Jon or offering to clean up Theodore’s email inbox in Her.  But part of why this story works so well is that it’s grounded by supporting actresses who are also raw and vulnerable and alive.  In particular, Amy Adams has an emotional journey of her own which is almost as huge as that experienced by Samantha. 

I have two tips for you to maximize your viewing experience of Her.  First of all, don’t take your kid or your mom unless you are all very open minded, because early in the movie there’s a phone sex scene that is hilarious and features a very loud orgasm and a very, very strange fetish.  Secondly, if you are hearing impaired, you might want to wait until it comes out on video so you can watch it with subtitles.  I am just hearing impaired enough that it’s often hard for me to catch dialogue, and in this movie everyone mumbles and they talk very fast.  I am dying to see this again with subtitles or read a copy of the script, because I feel like I missed a lot.  Apparently some theaters have special glasses now with closed captioning – has anyone tried them out?  I would love to hear feedback about this.  Either way, Spike Jonze won a Golden Globe for the script and you aren't going to want to miss it.

The ending can be interpreted many different ways and I suspect that several people could see the film together and all come away with different feelings about the end and about the movie as a whole.  My personal feeling was that it was bittersweet.  Maybe it didn’t end the way I hoped, but there was a powerfully uplifting message that everyone is capable of growth and redemption and everyone deserves to love and be loved.  I don’t always need a conventional HEA but I like to feel a sense of hope and I was left with that hopeful feeling, as well as some funny moments to smile about. 

Wait till you see the video game Amy Adams’ character develops:  ‘Perfect Mom!”  Oh, my gosh that game is so hilarious. 

“See, you get points if you drop your kids off at school on time, but you get EXTRA points if you drop them off first.  Because if you are first in line than not only are you the perfect mom, but all the other moms KNOW you’re the perfect mom”. 

Not enough LOLs in the world!

This film is currently playing. You can find showtimes at Fandango and Moviefone (US). 

Comments are Closed

  1. nightsmusic says:

    I haven’t seen this yet. Not sure the DH would want to so I’ll wait until it comes to cable. But if you keep an eye on IMSDB.com, if and when the script is released, they’ll probably post it in its entirety. I hate to admit that years of listening to hard rock when I was young has made my hearing less than optimal and I often turn on the CC as well.

  2. Amanda says:

    Thank you for reviewing this, Carrie! I’ve been fawning over the previews, but after suffering some recent movie letdowns, I’ve restrained myself from watching it.

  3. MissB2U says:

    Thank you for mentioning the CC thing, it’s an issue for me too and I”d hate to pay top dollar then miss half the dialogue!

  4. Karenmc says:

    Nightmusic, thanks for mentioning IMSDB.com. I’d never heard of it before, but I’ll be spending time there soon.

  5. Dread Pirate Rachel says:

    Joaquin Phoenix looks so much like one of my colleagues in this that I did a massive spit-take when I saw the first trailer. The resemblance is truly uncanny. I don’t know if I’d be able to watch this movie with such a strong association in my head.

  6. laj says:

    We saw this film on Tuesday night and my husband and I are still talking about it! Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson steal the show, but Joaquin Phoenix is so wonderful as Theodore, he just breaks your heart.

    Great review on a terrific film. Thanks.

  7. Dibs says:

    Nah, I think there’s serious mumbling going on in movies.

    I have hearing loss (thanks Mom, thanks Nana, thanks Grandma F) and god bless hearing aids – they cured my husband’s sever case of the mumbles instantly.

    But movies!  My husband was tested and has almost no hearing loss (although he does seem to have trouble hearing me at times!)  but for some movies, he too is asking, What?  What’d he say?  Robert Downey, Jr. is a prime offender as Sherlock and Ironman – I’m saving up my dead hearing aid batteries so I can pelt him at the next awards show.

    We buy movies on DVD so we can stop, replay.  Haven’t had to use the CC yet, but it’s probably coming soon.

  8. Kelly C. says:


    I am somewhat appalled by the fact that this movie is advertised as a “LOVE STORY”  Sorry, it’s actually about a man with serious issues, which is fine.  We all have them to some degree. 

  9. LaineyT says:

    I haven’t read this review yet only because I was supposed to see “Her” a couple nights ago but it was sold out.  As an alternative we went to see the “Invisible Woman”, the latest film to star and be directed by Ralph Fiennes.  It follows the relationship between Charles Dickens and Ellie Ternan.  I didn’t know much about Dickens going in and tbh I don’t think I even finished reading Great Expectations when we studied it in school so I feel I might have missed out on some of the subtext in the film.  Despite that, the story has stayed with me and I’d love to read your review of this film if you decide to see it.

  10. CarrieS says:

    Thank, Lainey!  I’ve been a little reluctant to see Invisible Woman because I was a afraid it would be depressing.  without any specific spoilers, what was your overall take on the mood of the film?

  11. LaineyT says:

    Hi Carrie…re: The Invisible Woman
    The story is told in flashbacks, mostly from Ternan’s point of view, and deals with her present and past struggles regarding her relationship with Dickens. Thanks to the continued popularity of his work, years after Dickens death he is still very much a topic of conversation.  Now married, living under a new name with a fictitious history, Ternan is forced to maintain a mask of indifference while dealing with her grief, the memories of how they met and fell in love, and her internal conflict over her role as his mistress.

    I’ll be honest.  It is depressing but not unrelentingly so.  The performances, costumes, and sets/locations are great and it’s also authentic and fascinating.  Despite the emotional restraint of that era we see the characters express warmth, caring and laughter with their families and friends, and strong emotions are occasionally allowed free rein.  Theatricals, horse racing and literary readings thrill the masses much like film, sporting events and concerts do today.  In fact, Dickens is treated like a rock star (like a latter-day George Clooney, he even hosts a benefit fundraiser).  The film explores how that affects his relationships not just with Ternan but also with his wife.

    So no, this isn’t an uplifting film but it’s not all doom and gloom and I found it has stuck with me.  I’m even thinking about trying some of his work.  The recitations in the film of his writing kinda blew me away.

  12. Rachel says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, but the preview and the review remind me of Lars and the Real Girl, which I fangirl loved.  Looking forward to seeing Her.

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