Tuesday, December 24, 2013
"Her" is the stupidest movie to wash down the pike in a very long time.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore (not Ted, Teddy or Theo but Theodore) Twombly, who in the mass transit-embracing Los Angeles of "Her's" future (already straining credulity) works as a writer at BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com. This enterprise - row upon row of writers dictating heartfelt words full of personal details - is vintage Spike Jonze, which is to say asinine. Jonze is a director with a great many ideas, none of them (at least since the 7-1/2 floor in "Being John Malkovich") any good.
First of all, anybody can print out a letter in any combination of script, font, and paper she wishes. Second of all, how many people are we to believe would a) pay a third person (and how much, exactly?) to ghostwrite a letter b) to be passed off as their own, knowing that c) they'll have to waste time anyway bringing the writer up to speed so that the letter is correct in tone and content? Thirdly, the letters go out at the end of each day, apparently without customer review. Fourth, Theodore - who has his own semi-private office space slightly larger than a cubicle - somehow can afford the largest apartment in this future L.A., which Jonze has pointlessly mashed up with Beijing (?), making it perhaps the largest apartment across two continents. Fifth, at one point in the movie a publishing house compiles a coffee-table book of Twombly's letters, which a) don't belong to him and b) would violate the confidentiality of every client featured, meaning such a book would never, ever see the light of day. Jonze vomits out goofy little ideas and never stops to think them through. Most of them are abortions, or should be.
So, anyway, on to the truly preposterous concept of the movie, which is that Theodore falls in love with the artificially intelligent new operating system (OS1) he's downloaded onto his Polaroid-esque camera phone. Her name is Samantha, and she is voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Jonze is fool enough to have Theodore ask her how she chose the name Samantha, which can only remind us of the real reason, namely that the role was first voiced, in its entirety, by the actress Samantha Morton. It takes a true idiot such as Jonze to disembowel Scarlett Johansson, keep the voice, and ditch the body. If you can get past the movie's big conceit, wait until you see the reactions of Theodore's friends and colleagues to his big news. They respond with a bizarre sort of equanimity, as if he'd just told them he'd ordered a salad for lunch.
Most of the movie's torturous two-hour-plus running time consists of gaga conversations between Theodore and Samantha, in which each keeps telling the other how much they love the way he or she sees the world. For us in the audience, this manifests itself in scenes of Phoenix skipping about town or musical montages of beaches at sunset and people holding hands, set to a soundtrack that if nothing else enables one to empathize with Van Gogh. (At one point, Theodore commands his computer to "play a melancholy song." "Now, play a different melancholy song.")
As dumb as it is, you could think of a hundred fascinating places to take this concept. Jonze explores none of them, settling for a whiny, mopey, and amazingly conventional man-woman relationship. At one point, after Theodore has fallen hard for Samantha, he is unable to locate her; both his phone and his desktop read, "Operating system not found." Might she have been phased out, for example? (Might there be an OS2?) No, she was just talking to some other people for a while. She's back now, cooing at him in her sex-kitten voice. Samantha is infinitely smarter than Theodore, but Jonze never lets her use her intelligence in any interesting way. A hint of malevolence at some point, for instance, might have done wonders for the movie.
All of the secondary roles for women in "Her" are equally empty. Amy Adams - light years away from her supremely ambitious Sydney Prosser of "American Hustle" - plays his neighbor and friend Amy, whose marriage (to a controlling douchebag) breaks up during the film. Are we supposed to be surprised? Within one minute in their company, we can tell what a jerk he is and that she would never be with him in the first place. Olivia Wilde is wasted in the role of a blind date, whose behavior toward Theodore careens from sexual rapacity to hateful rejection so violently you begin to think Jonze is not only mystified by women but genuinely afraid of them. Rooney Mara plays Theodore's soon-to-be-ex-wife, Catherine, whom we see mostly in flashbacks. She too appears to border on bipolar.
The little Easter eggs Jonze programs into his movie - the boy who guides Theodore to the next level of his virtual-reality video game, calling him a "pussy motherfucker" along the way, or the heroine of "Perfect Mom," a video game Amy designs, who achieves the highest level by rubbing herself up libidinously against her refrigerator door - are profane and vulgar. Nobody in "Her" behaves like a human being, because Jonze does not relate to people in a recognizably human way. There's something disconnected about him, resulting in cold and clinical movies that in no way enrich our lives.