Postby CAP » Fri Jan 17, 2014 1:51 am

Surprisingly sober 'relationships' movie or romance from Spike Jonze, better known for Surreal farces like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. But they were a long time ago, in his Charlie Kaufman phase (remember Charlie Kaufman?) This time around he is writer and director of a kind of Cyberpunk tale set in a slightly futuristic Los Angeles (well, most of it), elegantly photographed by Hoyte van Hoytema. Story: a nerdish middle-aged guy, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with a new software platform for his computer that is designed to have a personality of its own. It talks to you in a voice you can choose. The software decides to call itself Samantha in his case and her voice is spoken by Scarlet Johansson. She has a lot of lines! Not that that will be much consolation to fans. There are a few laughs in here initially, but really this is a guy’s movie about being a sweet and sensitive guy but somehow not really connecting with a partner, being just a little bit too withdrawn, a little too careful. It’s a sort of confirmed bachelor’s fantasy of what love is supposed to be. I give it 5.

Samantha is initially just supposed to be like a secretary and straighten out his files and organise his life more efficiently. She takes calls, passes on messages. But she quickly becomes curious about the rest of his life and is soon a constant companion and confidante, a Girl Friday, 24-7. Who wouldn’t fall in love with her? And she sounds like Scarlet Johansson! She is on his mobile, his i-This and i-That (she is described as an O.S. – operating system – giving her a suspiciously Apple tinge...). At this point the story seems to be just riffing on people’s addiction to their mobile phones, tablets, social networking and connectivity. Everywhere he goes people are hunched over little screens desperate to stay in some loop. Everyone is listening to their earpiece, wherever they are. You know these places, all too well. We’re not that far into the future. Samantha just seems to sum up a terrible dependency, to be that gadget you daren’t turn off, daren’t leave home without. And inevitably Samantha becomes the person - at least virtually - that understands Theodore best and Theodore becomes Samantha’s all-consuming guide to being a flesh and blood person, to establishing the difference between software and wetware, as they say. It is love at log-in before long. There is even a kind of virtual sex, where her ‘mind’ conceives of a body through his sexual excitement, but we never get to find out much more about that. They try a body surrogate -not strictly a prostitute- called Isabella (Portia Doubleday), but that is just too weird.

But sex is not really the deal here. The deal is really marriage, sharing one’s life, being a partnership, fitting in – at least as a concept. The messy stuff of partner’s shortcomings, misfortunes and compromises, in-laws and careers, housework, rows, shopping, cleaning, repairing… the smells! the noise! the neighbours!... spite, jealousy, rivalry, laziness, secrets and debts - those bits get left out or just cancel the relationship in Her. The full glories of long term commitment are glossed over somewhat. But Theodore buys the dream – the two of us, always for each other….a clutch of giggling five-year olds on the front lawn… It’s just that he can’t quite live it. He struggles to complete the divorce papers after a year’s separation from his childhood sweetheart, Catherine (Rooney Mara). He has trouble letting go of those years, as you would. His neighbours all know. He’s such a sweet guy – for a neighbour. I don’t think we ever really find out how long he was married, but given his age (40ish?) I’m guessing around 10-15 years although that Rooney Mara still looks a drop dead babe – no wonder she gave a nerd with a Mario moustache named Theodore the brush-off. He ain’t no Roosevelt. He looks more like a sleazy uncle sitting there opposite her. But anyway, Catherine is now a successful novelist and he’s proud of her hard won accomplishment but it’s not until he’s in love with Samantha that he feels strong enough to finally write his marriage down. Which is understandable, but his newfound confidence overshoots when he arranges to meet her one last time for the sign off. Talk inevitably turns to their separate lives and he tells her about Samantha only to have her ridicule his relationship with a software programme. Exs can be so cruel! But Catherine has a point. Samantha is not actually a person and he is not really up for a human relationship. Doh! And Cath clearly still knows him that much better, can still press those buttons! It’s a bummer when that happens, isn’t it? Don’t think she doesn’t know it as well. Theodore takes the reality check hard.

Suddenly he is not telling Samantha everything, not taking her everywhere. She senses his withdrawal. But she’s over the flesh and blood thing by this stage and is into networking with all the other copies of her software, into relationships that are strictly silicon-based, man (the whole plot is very William Gibson-ish). So love don’t live here anymore, muchacho. Theodore is back to putting in the long ones at work. His job is composing private letters for people too busy or incompetent to conduct their own private lives. How weak is that? He’s pretty much a secretary himself. He composes all sorts of letters of congratulation or commiseration, celebration or counsel. He prints them out with a suitable script font (one of those free downloadable ‘hand’ fonts, by the look of it) and mails them at the end of the day. He’s supposed to be brilliant at it and this is meant to make him such a sweet and understanding guy. But the letters struck me as not much more than personalised greeting cards and I couldn’t see why people would particularly value them, much less want to publish a selection as a book (Samantha sets that in train). The whole situation is so pathetic, but then this is a guy that spends his downtime playing hologram games for children (Jonze supplies the voice to the foul-mouthed brat at the centre of the game). But the job does sort of spell out Theodore’s verbal strengths or preferences. He even composes the letters just by spoken commands, which seems a bit odd. I couldn’t compose things that way; the whole dictation thing is too linear for me but whatever. With Samantha cutting out Theodore finds consolation with his neighbour Amy (Amy Adams – recently noted in American Hustle). She’s much nicer in this and after her husband leaves her to become a Buddhist monk or something, she too forms a strong attachment with the same software as Samantha. But hers is just a female best friend. It too goes cyber-feral though, leaving both Amy and Theodore bereft so the two just kind of mope together on the roof of their apartment block at the end.

Call that happy? Well look if Rooney Mara had dumped me and Scarlet Johansson couldn’t even manage a 3D avatar for a little interactive with me, I’d settle for an Amy Adams as vulnerable dud video artist. What I’m saying is for a nerdy middle-aged Mario/Geppetto-type, Theodore is inexplicably a babe magnet. While this might just seem the usual Hollywood hyperbole or chauvinism the problem is that it undercuts the whole credibility of Theodore as some sort of loveable schlub if the movie can’t extend the same honesty or generosity to its female characters. In that case the movie is not about a character that can’t connect in romance but a more pervasive evasion. It points finally to the maker’s limitations. The back story here is that Jonze was married to Sofia Coppola (1999-2004) was involved with her since around 1992. Rumour is that he was the model for the character of the dishevelled, career-driven photographer and husband, John, in her movie Lost in Translation (2003). Significantly, Scarlet Johansson was Coppola’s surrogate there, wife of John. Her - get it? Both deny the interpretation of course, only confirming everyone’s suspicions and this movie will do nothing to allay them either. Theodore recounts how Catherine’s family oppressed her with their pressure for success and competitiveness and that she found relief in his more playful approach. Hmmm, I don’t think we’re talking about Theodore the greeting card writer and computer nerd here. We’re talking a considered and elaborate private rebuttal. And it doesn’t quite measure up, sadly. It only demonstrates his all too real weaknesses. He really doesn’t do relationships that well, one on one. They’re better when filtered through special effects, in favoured channels, as a game. While Jonze has had other partners subsequently, he has not remarried. If this gives the movie a sort of latent poignancy it hardly compensates for a more obvious failure.
Last edited by CAP on Wed Feb 26, 2014 10:35 am, edited 15 times in total.
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