4/5 MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Spike Jonze
prd Megan Ellison, Vincent Landay
with Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Matt Letscher, Laura Kai Chen, Luka Jones, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Brian Cox
release US 18.Dec.13, UK 14.Feb.13
13/US 2h00
Penny for your thoughts: Adams and Phoenix

johansson pratt mara
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Her Jonze takes another fiercely inventive look at human emotions in this lightly futuristic romance between a man and his computer's intelligent operating system. What's surprising is how easy it is to identify with the relationship, and how daring the filmmaker and cast are as they delve into how we connect with each other.

In a world that has done away with keyboards, Theodore (Phoenix) writes letters for people who long for a personal touch. But there's no one to help with his own heartache after his marriage to Catherine (Mara) breaks down. His best friend Amy (Adams) and her husband Charles (Letscher) set him up on a blind date with a sexy girl (Wilde). But he doesn't start opening up until his new operating system starts evolving into an intelligent, interactive presence who calls herself Samantha (voiced by Johansson). As her personality emerges, they fall for each other.

The obvious hitch from the start is that Samantha will not stop evolving. So even as Theodore finds happiness with her, she continues to expand her consciousness. We can see where this has to lead, and we can also understand why Theodore doesn't want to think about it. Because watching someone change can be terrifying. Thankfully, Jonze gives the film a light, fable-like tone, using a gentle touch that focuses on internal emotions that are often overwhelming but never feel forced.

The performances are understated and sympathetic, matching the film's overall production design, which cleverly combines sci-fi details with minimalist lived-in spaces (the cityscape of futuristic Los Angeles ingeniously weaves in sequences shot in Shanghai). Phoenix is an offhanded everyman, crippled by insecurity even as everyone reminds him that he's the most emotionally expressive person they know. Johansson's voice work is a full-on performance mixing humour, sexuality and curiosity to make us fall for her too.

But where Jonze's smart, observant, inventive film really gets under our skin is in the way he probes so deeply into the difficulty of any relationship: putting two people together creates a minefield. And while some sentiments are things we already know ("Life is brief, so allow yourself to experience joy"), the context gives them unusual resonance. Especially when characters express things we often feel ourselves, including our desire to avoid the harsh truths and the realisation that our mortality is working against us.

cert 15 themes, language, nudity 10.Dec.13

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall