A brilliant and beautiful film about relationships and technology, sometimes at the same time
This review comes from my Letterboxd profile, where I review all of the movies I see.
Where in the world did this movie come from?! Where did a movie about a relationship between a human and his AI come from? And how in the world is it so freaking good?!?! Seriously, this feels like it should be some obscure indie film that people discover and celebrate its existence, but this is a mainstream film that people talked about and loved and that got a ton of award buzz. How did this movie get made? However it got made, I am so happy it did. Her is an intricate exploration of relationships, technology, and how they both come together in a way that feels, shockingly enough, human. This movie's portrayal of relationships is fascinating all the way until the end, and the pacing of this film just makes it breeze by so quickly you don't even realize two hours have gone by. You just become so captivated by the two main characters, who both feel blisteringly real and human despite that one of them is a computer.
Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlet Johannson are both phenomenal in this film. Phoenix feels remarkably subdued and delivers his lines completely authentically, while Johannson's voice performance somehow manages to perfectly combine human and computer voice elements to create a completely believable personality. The relationship and chemistry between these two are, like, I said, surprisingly human. Joaquin's character, Theodore, is just trying to find someone who will always be there for him and someone who can fill the hole left in his heart by his ex-wife, (played by Rooney Mara), while Johannson's character, Samantha, just wants to find the human side of her personality and finds that in Theodore. Both of them compliment each other beautifully, and it's a joy to watch. Amy Adams completely disappears into her role as... Amy. Kind of ironic when you think about it, but it's true, you don't even really recognize it's Adams while you're watching the film (I didn't even know she was in it until I started watching this thing). Olivia Wilde has a great brief appearance, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader both have blink-and-you'll-miss-them voice cameos in this film that are completely unrecognizable as their voices... the acting in this film all around is just fantastic.
Something I love the most about this movie is how gloomy it isn't. Most movies about technology give really overt (albeit very important) messages about how advancements in technology are very bad for the human race because it could just turn on us and make us addicted to our phones and computer screens if we let it get too smart. Most movies about technology are about this dystopian future where humans no longer have control over their technology. This movie doesn't focus on that perspective. It allows the characters in this movie to have real, human interactions while also mixing it with just enough technological advancement to leave the viewer to ponder, "What is taking technology too far?" The humans in this world treat AI just as another part of life, but they're not controlled by it. The movie doesn't even give a definitive answer as to whether or not a relationship with an AI would be a bad thing. It lays out all of the pros and cons of that kind of relationship on the table for the viewer to look at and decide for themselves whether or not a connection is worth it. It can feel like the perfect relationship while you're experiencing it, but maybe it's not as unique as you might think because so many people use AI in their daily life and chances are there's more than one person using the same AI as you. It may feel human with the way the AI speaks to you and interacts with you, but it can never truly be human because it's just a voice on the other end of a speaker; it doesn't have a body, it doesn't have a true human brain, it can't truly feel emotions. The movie asks the viewer if it's worth it, but doesn't necessarily answer that question itself, which makes this film a fantastic thinking piece.
The atmosphere of this movie is completely believable. You believe that this is a future reality in which humans and technology coexist more than ever before. I love the idea of the company that Theodore works for writing "handwritten letters" that are not handwritten and that are just written by a factory, not by an actual person. Well, an actual person writes the letters, just not the person who should be writing the letters, if that makes sense. I love the advancements in video games, AI, and technology in general shown in this film because it feels like a believable progression of technology that would occur ten or twenty years from now. Technology can write its own music and sounds more human than ever before and do pretty much any task you ask from them. The writer of this film really took the time to think of a believable technological development for the future world portrayed in this film and it shows. It feels completely believable. Also, just a little side-note, the score in this film is incredible, particularly one very meta scene where Samantha writes a piece that's supposed to represent her and Theodore on a beach. It's genius musical composition, it's genius script-writing, it's genius emotional drama, it's a genius meta twist. I just love it.
I really, really, REALLY want to give this film five stars, but I can't because I do have a couple of flaws with the world-building. For one, it feels like more people in this film would be with their AIs, especially since the AI model that Samantha is a part of is a brand-new technology in this film, but you rarely see anyone else using technology in Her unless it's very significant to the plot, and that bothered me. I feel like there should have been a lot more people in the background using technology like their AIs than there were, especially since AI like Samantha's model, OS1, already existed before OS1. There are also times where Samantha is able to speak to others without an earpiece or seemingly without any vessel with which to speak. She talks to a young girl without her having an earpiece and there's a picnic scene where she somehow freely talks with the company around her. Now, in this film, the AI can talk through a computer without headphones and that I get, but if the earpiece is on, can't she only talk through the earpiece and not through the little phone-like thing that is included with the purchase of her model? They just didn't establish that very clearly. Also, there's this concept of body surrogates that I think was a fantastic idea but just wasn't executed as perfectly as it could have been. I think the surrogate should be a real person, but then put on this automated personality and tone whenever she has the earpiece in. However, the script makes it seem at first like she is just this automated human, which was a very odd choice. The idea was an amazing idea and a great way to progress the story, but I feel like the idea could have been executed a little better.
There's a scene where Samantha and Theodore have an argument and it just cuts to this random shot of a woman walking across the street and I couldn't help but wonder what that was there for. There was also a cut that didn't quite work as seamlessly as the editor had hoped when Amy hits Theodore with a pillow. The cut just didn't feel seamless, and it was a little jarring. One other thing I wanted to talk about: I haven't mentioned Chris Pratt in this film for a reason, and that's because there was a scene where he was talking about someone writing a letter for him that made me reconsider whether or not I would like him as a character. That scene just felt tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film thanks to his really awkward dialogue, but thankfully, he doesn't do anything like that again and stays a likable presence for the rest of the film. I remember hearing Pratt was in this movie, but I think I forgot that until I started watching this film, and he is really good in this role. Again, he blends right in.
Even though I just wrote two longish paragraphs about my flaws with this film, all of those flaws are just nitpicks that ultimately work against the film's favor. Other than those flaws, Her is probably going to cement its status as one of my personal favorite films. Phoenix and Johannson are Oscar-worthy, the script is smart and topical, the music and cinematography are beautiful, the story is unique and original... I just love pretty much everything about this film. It is an absolutely beautiful film that doesn't paint technology and its advancement as purely evil, instead of letting the audience members decide when they think technology would go too far, and that portrays a relationship between a human and an AI that is blisteringly authentic and, surprisingly enough, human.
Letter Grade: A
[I originally rated this film 4.5 stars, as indicated by the above grade. However, after talking with a friend and re-reading my review, I've decided to bring my rating of this movie up to five stars. There's really no reason not to because after months of letting this film sink in, the minor nitpicks I mentioned don't really bother me anymore. Besides, it's one of my favorite films now. Why shouldn't I give it five stars?]