Monday, January 13, 2014
Movie review: Her
Spike Jonze must have landed some influential funders for his newest effort, "Her." This flick has benefited from a load of promotion. And I'm sure it will do very well at the box office.
And why not? Given the contemporary subject matter the movie is bound to pry away the attention of thousands of forlorn and bewildered souls from their iPad screens. We are legion.
The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly, a lonely writer living in Los Angeles in the near future. Theodore is wrestling with despair. His job is to write customized love letters for clients (much like Gabriel Garcia Márquez's Florentino Ariza). Love seems to flourish all around Theodore, but his own life is desolate and bleak. When he discovers an advanced operating system that is designed to conform to the desires of its user (imagine a highly-advanced Siri), things seem to brighten up. The operating system behaves like an artificial intelligence, developing a personality. Theodore's perfect companion, "Samantha," is born. A love relationship develops between them.
The attraction of this film, frankly, was its pathos. Theodore is a character toward whom it is easy to identify in this techno-isolated society. I went to the film expecting an examination of the relationship between those two human but often contradictory needs: companionship and identity. The idea of a love relationship evokes longing. The reality of a love relationship can be smothering. This conundrum is certainly worthy of examination and today's hyper-technical diversions seem a perfect lens through which to view it.
But the film just doesn't work. As the story unfolds, the relationship between Theodore and Samantha comes more and more to resemble "normal" human relationships: mismatched expectations, hurt feelings, insensitive remarks... you get the picture. Other than Samantha's ethereal-ness, there's nothing that distinguishes the relationship as unique. That may have been Jonze's point, but I don't think so. He gestures at the birth of artificial intelligence as a new life form, but it seems like an escape valve for a story that has nowhere to go.
Hats off to Joaquin Phoenix. To the extent that the film succeeds, it is because of his touching performance. And there are some artful montages throughout.
But the film is based on a far-fetched premise. And in order for something like that to succeed, the story has to be nailed down in all four corners.
Sorry, Spike. Thumbs down from me.