Praise for 'Her' is only faint

By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

January 9, 2014


WAUKESHA - Star Joaquin Phoenix, as Theodore Twombly, dances around in his long underwear and accompanies a crooning computer on his ukulele. A Twombly co-worker (Chris Pratt) praises the sensitive ghostwriter of personal letters as “part man and part woman.” The question “What does a baby computer call its father?” is posed; the answer is “data.”

That’s the kind of stuff that passes for humor in Spike Jonze’s science fiction dramedy “Her.” Previewed before Christmas, “Her” found its way onto many a reviewer’s top 10 movies list for 2013 and the National Board of Review positioned “Her” at No. 1.

I must be missing something, as I had little use for this Jonze-Phoenix collaboration. One note I made while viewing “Her” reads “weird movie.” (Truth be told, I’m still trying to figure out why Joaquin’s Theodore insists on wearing his Sunday best to the beach.) It seemed that half the Jonze script nominated by the Writers Guild for best original screenplay consisted of forms of the F-word. And, early on, I was reminded of another 2013 movie I dislked, “Don Jon.” While “Don Jon” might be exaggeratedly described as one long and distasteful demonstration of an egotist pleasuring himself, “Her” threatened to become one long obscene phone call.

Fortunately, “Her” veered in another direction. Set in Los Angeles at an unspecified time in the future, the film proceeded from phone sex to computer dating as a means - Theodore Twombly’s means - of coping with a marriage gone sour. It should be pointed out that computer dating in Twombly’s case translates as a man dating his computer. The man, described by a friend as “sad” and “mopey,” overcomes his post-marital malaise by purchasing what is advertised as “the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system.” Let’s just define the OS, known as Samantha and voiced by an unseen Scarlett Johansson, as a sort of supercomputer that can do most anything - even fall in love with its human owner.

As the equally lovestruck owner, Phoenix, who does his fair share of method actor mumbling, exudes naturalness and likability; I must admit, sheepishly, that I found letterwriter Theodore rather relatable in his uncoolness. Pratt does a fine job as the work buddy with whom Theodore double dates (Pratt’s character with a live woman, Phoenix’s with his OS). Amy Adams capably portrays a Twombly confidante, also named Amy, who becomes OS-enamored, as well.

The “Her” theme music put me in mind of the classic “Twilight Zone” TV series, which also was classified as sci-fi and occasionally cautioned about the future. I’m afraid I would’ve preferred taking in a two-hour compilation of “Twilight Zone” episodes to the similar amount of time I spent viewing Jonze’s movie. Phoenix and castmates were quite watchable, as already established. Frankly, though, the film wasn’t all that much of a foreboding and folks will find a more poignant picture, with a somewhat more credible story line, at theaters showing Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” The National Geographic-type cinematography that marks “Mitty,” by the way, trumps “Her’s” impressive enough cityscapes.