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Susan Granger's review of 'Her'

Published 5:59 pm, Friday, January 24, 2014
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Set in Los Angeles in an indeterminate future, writer/director Spike Jonze's highly anticipated sci-fi fantasy compassionately explores themes of loneliness and alienation in the age of technology.

Depressed Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a frustrated former newspaperman who is paid to compose touching "handwritten letters" for users of the popular Internet Network. Emotionally adrift since the breakup of his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara), he's intrigued with a new, advanced computer operating system, an artificial intelligence that promises to supply him with a uniquely intuitive companion. This sentient, Siri-like entity turns out to be Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), who not only satisfies Theodore's every desire but also manages to get a collection of his letters published as a book. Soon a bizarre courtship develops, along with field trips and double dates, while Samantha expands the scope of her knowledge and develops her consciousness.

Working from what is, undoubtedly, the most original script in years, visionary Jonze ("Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation," Where the Wild Things Are") has fashioned an ambitious, touching, distinctively relevant dilemma, involving cell phones, texting, Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Phoenix ("The Master") once again proves his versatility as sensitive, lovelorn Theodore struggles to reconcile his own self-identity with Samantha's essentially elusive nature. As Theodore's friends, Amy Adams and Chris Pratt score briefly with underwritten, secondary roles.

According to Jonze: "All my movies have this aspect of constant evolution and exploration, which really means: We don't know what we're doing!" Although she's never seen on-camera, Johansson delivers a seductive, spoken tour-de-force, igniting controversy about whether she should have been eligible as Best Supporting Actress. There's no precedent, even when Douglas Rain voiced HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey" or James Earl Jones intoned Darth Vader. And it's ironic since, during filming, Samantha Morton articulated Samantha until, in post-production, Jonze decided to substitute Johansson's soothing, sultry contralto.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Her" is quirky, quixotic 9, a sadly surreal, screwball comedy/drama, subtly, yet sincerely exploring how we perceive and interact with those around us.