Brilliant and weird best describe the work of oh so out there director Spike Jonze, the man behind the camera for “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation.” “Her,” recently released on DVD, is his latest and greatest film yet. He grabbed the Oscar for his Best Original Screenplay low-key look at a very near future Los Angeles where people are more engrossed than ever in their electronic devices and turn to Beautiful Handwritten Letters.com to express feelings they are incapable of sharing.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is one of the best writers at this sadly needed company. Though he’s deeply in tune with and enriches the lives of his regular clients, he has made a regrettable and unfulfilled mess of his own. That all starts to change when he purchases an OS1, the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system. His female voiced unit (a beautifully nuanced Scarlett Johansson) calls herself Samantha and rapidly begins developing human thoughts and feelings. She advances beyond micromanaging Theodore’s daily life to becoming his possessive and indispensable girlfriend and setting him on a self-destructive path.
What could easily be Jonze’s weirdest and even creepiest work to date is amazingly somehow his most accessible. His movie quietly goes about its business and draws you into its situation so gently you simply go along with it much as Theodore does at first. It then begins to tighten its grip on both Theodore and you and suddenly you’re hooked and have to see it through. Though it’s slow-paced, it’s never boring. Though weird, it’s understandable and relatable. Though it’s a depressing and grim view of where we are headed, it’s not a downer and is surprisingly enjoyable.
The most disturbing scene comes when Samantha arranges for a tragic and lonely young woman named Isabella (Portia Doubleday) to visit Theodore as her flesh and blood surrogate with heartbreakingly disastrous results. It punctuates the main theme among several at work here in a story that leads to an open ended and truly horrifying concept. But that broader scenario is not the focus. This is a thought provoking social commentary on our inimitable need for human relationships and the careless and self-absorbed manner in which we are throwing them away.