In "Her," which premiered at the New York Film Festival last weekend, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely writer living in a futuristic Los Angeles who can't get himself to sign his divorce papers. When the world's first artificially intelligent computer software comes out, one that is personally matched to each user, Theodore sets it up immediately. After a few blunt questions including, "How would you describe your relationship with your mother?" he is given Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Programmed with the thousands of personalities of her creators, Samantha is a constantly evolving software that develops more complex knowledge and emotions every moment. As Theodore interacts with her more and more each day, he begins to fall in love with her.
Spike Jonze's sci-fi romance depicts a relatable, poignant love story with one of the best, yet most unusual onscreen romances this year. While the film doesn't open until December 18, here are 10 things you should know about it.
1. It's a Bizarre But Beautiful Love Story
Amy Adams' Amy, Theodore's closest friend, says "Falling in love is the craziest thing to do. It's kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity." Nothing could ring truer in a film where various forms of love are examined and explored: a man falling for his A.I. computer software; said software experiencing the same emotions; a woman struggling with her marriage. At first, Theodore's relationship with Samantha seems as weird as it sounds, but as the two grow closer their relationship becomes more and more realistic. We soon can't help but see them as a real couple, communicating long distance.
2. It Echos Contemporary Anxieties
While "Her" takes place in a not-so-distant future, it serves as a reflection for the many social anxieties we face today. The need to always be connected, to always be in-the-know, is still present in Jonze's future world. His Los Angeles citizens are constantly communicating via bluetooth-esque earpieces. Though Theodore works as a ghost writer of love letters, he spends most of his time playing video games and calling up a hotline for phone sex, all technological ways to connect that result in no real satisfaction. If Jonze's world is our future then it proves that while technology may be fancier and more convenient, it may still leave us wanting more.
3. But Overall, It's More About Humanity Than Technology
Though "Her" is an examination of technology and its growing effect on our daily lives, that's just the basis for its story about the human condition. The film begins by exploring Theodore's seemingly odd relationship with his OS (operating system) Samantha, and eventually focuses its attention more toward human emotions, experiences, and relationships. The closer Theodore gets to Samantha the more he unlocks his long-hidden spontaneous, vulnerable self. This ability to find friendship and even love with an OS becomes quite common among the film's other characters. Yet through this deep connection with technology, Theodore, and even Samantha, soon discover what it means to be human. In a way "Her" begins with how technology removes us from ourselves, but then explores how it can help us stay in touch with our emotions.
4. Joaquin Phoenix Is Amazing (as Always)
Theodore is his most sensitive and relatable character yet, one whom isn't as much of an anti-social recluse as Ryan Gosling's Lars in "Lars and the Real Girl," but still suffers from loneliness and heartbreak. In a majority of his scenes, Phoenix is alone on screen as he converses with Samantha, yet his performance is constantly charged with emotion. Whether lying in bed talking, dancing alone along the subway platform, or spinning around on the boardwalk with his eyes closed, Phoenix is fully captivating. He proves that he can carry an entire film and create a relatable character we can see facets of ourselves in.
5. Scarlett Johansson's Voice Has a Strong Presence
While we only hear a voiceover from Johansson, her character is as palpable as the rest. The many nuances in her voice -- her crackly laugh, her soft inhales, her squeaky excitements -- make her presence all the more human, as if she's just a person on the other end of the phone. We may imagine Johansson's face as we listen to her Samantha, but the inability to see her on screen constantly challenges our imagination as we fight to visualize each of her expressions. Johansson's voice work reveals just how much of a believable character can be created through audio only.
6. Amy Adams Is Very Real
Amy Adams is Spike Jonze's usual rugged-yet-natural-looking female character (think Cameron Diaz in "Being John Malkovich"). Her messy hair and baggy clothes go along with her faltering marriage and overwhelming job. Adams has played both raw, feisty characters and sweet, charming ones, but as Amy she's an unabashed and honest woman who's endlessly flustered with life. She's the best friend you wish you had, who can break down crying in front of you, but also just be blunt when you need it. Amy is the best portrayal of any real onscreen female this year.
7. It Has an Odd But Hilarious Sense of Humor
In "Her" we get a sense of Jonze's unusual and candid sense of humor with a handful of unexpectedly funny moments. When Theodore is having phone sex, what would seemingly turn into a sad moment of loneliness quickly becomes the most bizarre and hilarious encounter imaginable. Jonze also adds doses of humor with Theodore's holographic video game where an alien character shouts funny vulgar remarks at him and Samantha.
8. The Tone Is Very Natural
Regardless of its science fiction story, "Her" is both realistic and relatable. Jonze succeeds in showing people (or should we say all entities) for how and what they are: sensitive, jealous, goofy, angry, and selfish creatures. An entire spectrum of emotions is revealed through Theodore and Samantha as they come to discover each other and eventually themselves. There are moments in the film where you can laugh if you find it funny or take it earnestly. In a way, the film's very natural and relatable style reflects how we all go through a confusing range of feelings and how every experience lends each person different ones.
9. It Reveals a Likely Future
Jonze's futuristic world feels not so far away with its voice operated earpieces à la Siri, holographic motion-controlled video games (we're almost there), and digitally transcribed letter-writing service. In the film, Theodore writes for BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, an ironic name for a company where no such handwriting occurs. Theodore verbally dictates all types of moving letters as his computer digitally transcribes them into cursive fonts and prints them onto digitally drawn lined paper. It wouldn't be so surprising if this became the future of editorial publishing.
10. As Jonze's First Solo Script, It's Incredible
Spike Jonze made his signature mark as a director with films like "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation," and "Where the Wild Things Are," so it may seem surprising that "Her" is Jonze's first solo writing credit. While Jonze has given life to Charlie Kaufman's personal screenplays, "Her" seems like a very personal piece of Jonze himself. The film's look at relationships and loneliness is so relatable that any viewer can find moments to connect to, to use as a reflection of their own personal struggles. To capture such honesty about the human condition in his first screenplay is a commendable achievement. We can't wait to see what he brings us next.