In the future there are a million ways to get your feelings hurt. That’s the implicit message in Her, a not very satisfying, not especially nourishing combination sci-fi story/romantic comedy by Spike Jonze. Out there in the future, which eerily resembles the present, everyone plays the nerd (badly fitting clothes, awkward body language), especially Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely man whose career as a letter writer for the emotionally illiterate leaves him longing for a tender gesture – even from a “hyper-intelligent OS” such as Samantha, the disembodied voice of Scarlett Johansson, in his computer.
Their love affair begins comically with midnight phone sex but eventually Samantha becomes his best, his only, friend. They have a great relationship except that she’s a cyborg. Everyone is doing it. Still, there are limitations. Theodore yearns for something more. Samantha also has aspirations. She wants to be human, but given Theodore’s disastrous history of awful dates with real women that’s not very realistic. Nevertheless, in his dissatisfaction Theodore becomes attracted to his neighbor Amy (Amy Adams), who works for a game company. So the idea is planted.
Filmmaker Jonze, who seems more comfortable creating bite-sized videos than tussling with full-length scenarios (Where the Wild Things Are, Being John Malkovich), goes through the motions of describing Theodore’s predicament distractedly, as if it were the most commonplace story in the world (well, come to think of it…). Theodore is in the middle of a slo-mo divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara). He plays video games every night but they bore him. The decors (colors, etc.) are retro but the technology is futuristic. Parodies of commercials (Apple, etc.) pop up. People and machines reference Alan Watts without delving beneath the surface, pure name-check.
Poor Theodore. What he really needs is a time machine. He could whisk himself back to the Vatican in the 16th century era of the Medici popes and dabble in elaborate, painstaking frescoes instead of immediate electronic gratification. He could whack a yak in a yurt on the steppe. Or he could set the machine to “Fast-Forward Future” until the human race gets safely past stories about dorks like Theodore. The rest of us are still stuck here with Her.