Set in the not-too-distant future, "Her" (watch trailer) is a love story starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson as a couple who follow the normal story of boy meets girl, but within a much different dynamic. Phoenix plays Theodore, a lonely and quiet guy who makes his living writing letters for other people. When he decides to upgrade to the latest operating system, he meets the voice of his computer, Samantha. As the artificial intelligence adapts to Theodore's needs, he finds himself falling in love. Although this premise could be played as creepy, writer and director Spike Jonze manages to pull off this love affair effortlessly. Jonze is known for his quirky directing in "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation." Those movies were written by Charlie Kaufman, who received most of the praise for the story. "Her" is the first movie in which Jonze pulls double duty, and critics love both his story and the way he directed it. He's being praised for his juxtaposition of different colors in future Los Angeles and lauded for the way he kept his vision from looking too complex. His film "Where the Wild Things Are" was visually striking, and he and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytemawere able to use various techniques to make this film equally exciting to watch. The clever camerawork and direction make Jonze's assertion that this movie is set in the "slight future" seem plausible. The Detroit Film Critics Society recognized Jonze with the award for Best Screenplay, and he was voted runner-up for the same award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. The Austin Film Critics Association awarded Best Original Screenplay honors to Jonze.
Joaquin Phoenix has received glowing reviews for his role as the lonely Theodore. Since his separation from his wife, Theodore spends his days at work involved in the intimate details of other people's lives and then comes home to video games and a life of solitude. Phoenix's performance has most critics and early viewers of the film surprised at his vulnerability and romanticism. Reviews across the board discuss the sense of isolation that exudes from Theodore early in the film and the uplifting person he becomes as he falls in love. His performance is compared to his role as Freddie Quell in "The Master," but, as Manohla Dargis of the "New York Times" states, "it feels as if his character's solitude had been drawn from some deep, unarticulated place in Mr. Phoenix's own being." For his role as Theodore, Phoenix was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
British actress Samantha Morton was originally cast as the voice of Samantha, and she actually worked on the set every day during the filming of "Her." After shooting ended, Jonze decided he needed a different voice and cast Johansson. Throughout the film, Samantha's tone varies depending on the situation; it changes when she wants to get Theodore in a good mood, for instance, and it even becomes sultry and smoky to help get him ready for bed. Critics and viewers alike feel that it's easy to visualize and personalize Samantha because of Johansson's unique voice and appearance, and many believe she should be nominated for an Oscar. After winning the award for Best Actress at the Rome Film Festival, Johansson sent a message saying, "I thank the jury above all for their ears." She was also named Best Supporting Actress by the Detroit Film Critics Society, but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has rules that disqualified her from being nominated for a Golden Globe.
Also receiving accolades for the film is Amy Adams, who plays the role of Theodore's only real friend, Amy. She is supportive of his relationship because she doesn't believe love really exists in the first place. The always funny Chris Pratt plays Theodore's coworker Paul, who isn't quite as convinced that the relationship will work. Pratt's aloof performance steals the few scenes he's in.
Given the arc of Spike Jonze's career, it's understandable that he decided it was time to both write and direct a film. The thing surprising everyone is that "Her" is such a balanced and touching love story. To date, "Her" has won Best Picture from the Detroit Film Critics Society and the Austin Film Critics Association, tied with "Gravity" for Best Picture from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and received a nomination for Best Picture from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.