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'Her' is fascinating but flawed

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) enjoy a stroll on the beach.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) enjoy a stroll on the beach.
Warner Bros.



Her, the latest film from director Spike Jonze, has undeniably received a hugely positive critical reception. It's because of this that I feel a bit bad saying that, while I think there are numerous positive aspects, I never found myself falling in love with it the same way many others have. There's an interesting concept at its core, and I feel that there are some interesting elements and great performances, but at the same time, there are some things that threw me off, and prevented me from fully enjoying it.

Part science fiction and part romantic drama, Her takes place in the near future, and focuses on Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), who has the rather questionable job of working for a website that has him write letters to significant others while pretending to be their partner. Theodore himself is ironically suffering from loneliness brought on by an impending divorce, but things pick up when he purchases a sentient computer operating system by the name of Samantha (Voiced by Scarlett Johansson), whose charming personality resonates so well with Theodore that they eventually strike up a relationship.

I find the actual concept of the film fascinating, and it's handled in a pretty clever and surprisingly level-headed and plausible way. Theodore and Samantha make small talk as well as have both deeper conversations and arguments, and the dialog for these scenes is believable and often charming.

As Theodore, Phoenix gives a skillfully understated performance, and supporting actresses like Rooney Mara as his ex and Amy Adams as a longtime friend are also good. However, I'd argue that it's Johannson as Samantha that delivers the standout performance of the film, despite the major fact that she's only a voice for its entirety. There's an undeniable warmth, charm, and likeability with her line delivery, and Samantha, despite being nothing more than a program in the context of the film, becomes the most interesting character as a result.

As for the things I found less charming about the film, I thought that the pace was often a bit too leisurely, with some of the conversations outstaying their welcome. There are also some specific story beats that didn't click with me, particularly in the early parts of the film, where Theodore and Samantha suddenly decide to kick off their relationship by simulating sex. It happens way too soon and abruptly, and I was hoping for their friendship to develop more naturally before getting to that point.

Also, in a strange stylistic choice, the screen goes black for almost a minute as the two pretend to get intimate. I actually heard people laugh in my theater at this scene, despite the fact that I don't think it was meant to be comedic. Finally, I wasn't a fan of the ending, as it gets momentarily abstract in a manner that doesn't fit the rest of the film, and I was left rather unclear as to just what happened as far as Samantha's last actions in the story go.

Jonze seems to take his time in making features - his last full-length movie was the 2009 adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. As controversial as this might sound, especially due to that film's mixed reception and Her's numerous rave reviews, I'd say I prefer Wild Things over Her without a doubt. That film could also slow down at points and be strange, but it was clearer in its storytelling and had a stronger emotional resonance at the end. Clearly, I'm in the minority here, though there are still many things I liked about Her. I'd say that if the concept interests you, it's worth a watch.