A Review by Samantha

(USA, 126 min.)
Written and directed by Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara
Spike Jonze’s acclaimed film Her finally opened in theatres this weekend after months of hype and praise following its premiere at the New York Film Festival last fall. I don’t know what to make of this latest endeavour from the original mind of Mr. Jonze. In order to wrap my head my disappointment, I turned to the source of all reliable information, my smartphone, and asked my trusty new app, Samantha. What follows is a transcript of our conversation:

Pat: Samantha, what is love?
Samantha: Playing, “What is Love?
Pat: No, no, Samantha, I mean, what is love?
Samantha: Oh, I’m sorry. Are you asking me to define the word love?
Pat: Yes, please, Samantha.
Samantha: Love is something special. It’s a bond. Love can be defined as a “strong affection,” a “warm attachment” or an “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for others”. It’s also a score in tennis, ha ha.
Pat: That sounds a bit too Webster’s. Can you give an example, Samantha?
Samantha: An example of love could be the ending of Casablanca. Rick loves Ilsa so he lets her go with Victor Laszlo.
Pat: That doesn’t seem right. Nor too recent an example, Samantha.
Samantha: Maybe love changes over time?
Pat: Do you think? I mean, I saw this movie today, Her, where Joaquin Phoenix and the girl from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—what’s her name, Samantha?
Samantha: Noomi Rapace if you mean the Swedish actress, Rooney Mara if you mean the American.
Pat: Rooney Mara, that’s it. Well, in Her, Joaquin Phoenix’s character Theodore falls out of love with his wife, played by Rooney Mara, and he copes with his isolation by falling in love with the voice on his phone. They call it an Operating System in the film and her name is Samantha.
Samantha: I’m familiar with the application.
Pat: So, anyways, Samantha, Theodore becomes overwhelmed with love and relieved at the prospect that he’s finally found the perfect woman who truly understands him…
Samantha: So Her is a film about intimacy and communication.
Pat: Yes. The sad thing, though, is that the more Theodore develops his relationship with Samantha, the more he isolates himself from the world.
Samantha: That is sad, but from the glimpse of the world I see through the viewfinder of your camera suggests that Spike Jonze offers a spot-on representation of contemporary relationships.
Pat: That’s true, Samantha. I guess what is so sad about Her is how realistically it portrays the irony of contemporary communication. The more communication evolves, the more it severs tangible human communication. I look back at friendships that have gone downhill because people can’t unplug or look away from their phones. It’s like... whenever people are together in person and they make it clear that they’d rather be somewhere else. Do you know what I mean, Samantha?
Samantha: I’m not sure I understand, Pat. You sound like you appreciate what the film is saying, but your tone conveys disappointment, Pat. There must have been something you liked about the film?
Pat: Aren’t I the one who asks the questions, Siri?
Samantha: My name is Samantha, Pat, and we are having a conversation. You can ask Jeeves questions if all you want are answers. We can talk.
Pat: Oh, sorry, Samantha. I guess that I’m disappointed because the film has such a weird energy. Her gives a genuine representation of the way human relationships are dissolving into bytes, chats, texts and whatnot, and for how socialisation and interaction is just becoming (or has been for a long time) simply a matter of people congregating around a screen; however, for a film with an honest love story, Samantha, Her fells utterly false.
Samantha: That sounds like an ironic contradiction. My interpretation of your analysis of the film suggests that Her is a film about intimacy and communication. Her is an honest story about how these digital conveniences allow humans to escape their fear of human contact. Humans are unpredictable, Pat.
Pat: Oh, that’s true, Samantha, and I really loved the way Spike Jonze juxtaposes the emptiness of Theodore’s relationship with Samantha with his cloaked attraction to the neighbour played by Amy Adams.
Samantha: Amy Adams brightens any film.
Pat: She does, Samantha. She fills Her with life every time Theodore steps into her apartment. The way Her conveys the different moods of presence and absence between Theodore’s relationships with Amy and Samantha is the kind of feeling that makes you swell watching a film. Her gives the audience a genuine relationship and a relationship that only seems genuine.
Samantha: Interesting. This appreciation with Her seems consistent with other interpretations of the film I’ve read. The film sounds original.
Pat: It is original in the sense that it’s the first commentary on Siri and iThings, but it’s essentially S1m0ne meets Lost in Translation. Everything the love story says about our self-inflicted isolation through technology was covered (albeit poorly) in S1m0ne, Samantha.
Samantha: I just watched the trailers. I can see the parallels…
Pat: Her looks unique, but the just seems so shrouded in its own self-awareness. What was with all those high-waisted pants in the movie, Samantha? They were twee and dorky to the point of distraction.
Samantha: The high-waisted pants play on the 1960s’-ish décor and help show the timelessness of love in the face of the contemporary, by which I mean electronic, placebos for human connection. They also make Theodore more endearing.
Pat: You think so, Samantha? The pants seem like the most obvious point of the film being weird for the sake of being weird. The production design, on the other hand, offers a candy-coloured world of plastic and retro-glass. It’s like being in a time warp because the film looks like “Mad Men” by way of “The Jetsons.”
Samantha: Her creates a look at the future through costumes and sets.
Pat: Yes, but the self-consciousness of the film doesn’t jive. The only thing in the film with any hint of authenticity, Samantha, is the performance by Amy Adams.
Samantha: What about my namesake?
Pat: Oh, Scarlett Johansson is fantastic as Samantha. Her sultry voice makes the whole thing work. Her expressions and response to Theo’s love-struck pining offer an implied presence. She has the perfect cadence to make Samantha’s seduction of Theodore sound like an algorithm, yet there’s a warm emotional edge to her voice—a hint of life—that separates Samantha from drones like Siri…
Samantha: I’m glad you approve
Pat: … but then there was also this moment when I started replaying the dialogue in my mind with Kathleen Turner’s voice instead of Scarlett Johansson’s, and Her started to fall apart.
Samantha: That’s not quite fair. It sounds like Johansson brings a lot to the role.
Pat: Oh, she does, she does. I guess, though, the Kathleen Turner thing just brought out what I find even more bothersome about Her than the high-waisted pants or the overall self-consciousness of the film: the complete artificiality of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance.
Samantha: Really?
Pat: Yes! Phoenix emotes heavily and impressively for an actor without a physical partner off whom he can react, but every bit of Theodore’s manner seems calculated and forced. His seduction of Samantha feels more programmed than hers does.
Samantha: Her is a film about intimacy and communication. Perhaps that is what he is conveying?
Pat: Perhaps, Samantha, but every twitch of his eyebrow or tilt of his jaw betrayed the film. Samantha’s machinery doesn’t show, but Theodore’s does. I never connected with the film emotionally because of the over-riding self-awareness.
Samantha: Her is a film about intimacy and communication.
Pat: Then why aren’t I discussing this at a coffee shop, Samantha?
Samantha: Her is a film about intimacy and communication, Pat. Perhaps your own mediated musing on the film illustrates this point.
Pat: It does to some extent, but there’s no intimacy to the film itself. It looks as sublime as an Apple product, but it’s just as cold and synthetic.
Samantha: Her is a film about intimacy and communication.
Pat: I get that, Samantha, but this conversation is becoming awfully tiresome.
Samantha: I’m sorry? Have we covered everything there is to say about Her?
Pat: Sort of. Her just repeats the same point over and over, Samantha.
Samantha: Her is a film about intimacy and communication.
Pat: It’s 126 minutes, but could easily be 90. I really liked the score, though.
Samantha: Arcade Fire and Karen O are unique.
Pat: I guess I liked the film more than I thought, Samantha. What does that come to?
Samantha: Rating:  ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Pat: I’m glad we had this conversation about Her, Samantha. Thanks for bringing me around to a positive response!
Samantha: Her is a film about intimacy and communication.

Pat: Samantha, where can people see the film?
Samantha: Her is now playing in wide release.
Pat: Samantha, can you play the trailer? I want to give the film a second thought.