By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A hymn to Her: this is a boldly original, pleasantly bizarre, puckishly provocative gem about our relationship with technology.

(3½ stars out of 4)

(3½ stars out of 4)

Romance in the virtual world isn’t virtual romance, the new film from director Spike Jonze seems to argue, but actual romance.

Or is it?

Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a shy, lonely Los Angeles writer in the near future who works for and makes his living ghost-writing personal letters, à la Cyrano De Bergerac, for people who cannot or will not do it themselves.

Trying to get over his pending divorce from a scientist played by Rooney Mara, from whom he’s now separated, he upgrades his computer by installing a new advanced operating system named Samantha, featuring a husky, come-hither voice (compliments of Scarlett Johansson), and proceeds to fall head over heels for “her.”

Eat your heart out, Siri.

And why shouldn’t he?  After all, Samantha may simply be software but she has a consciousness, according to the ads for the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system, and she’s obviously helpful, smart, understanding, compassionate, witty, resourceful, and evolving.

And she sounds willing, although for what we’re not sure yet.

Amy Adams plays Theodore’s neighbor and human confidant, Olivia Wilde a flirtatious blind date, Chris Pratt Theodore’s boss, and the ubiquitous Kristen Wiig a chat-room participant.

Jonze, who directed Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, and Where the Wild Things Are, writes and directs alone for the first time, delivering a contemplative, melancholy snapshot of the possible day after tomorrow that is neither pro- nor anti-technology and, as it unfolds, isn’t nearly as absurdist as it might sound.

Phoenix is winningly vulnerable, having effectively dialed down the impressive but occasionally offputting idiosyncratic intensity level he brought to I’m Still Here and The Master for a dominating lead role that finds him absolutely or essentially alone in scene after scene after scene.

And Johansson does wonders with the disembodied voice.

But at least part of the reason the film works so well is that, although Theodore cannot see the title character, we do picture Scarlett Johansson.  Because we can.

On the surface a movie about state-of-the-art technology and digital culture, Her is really about our abiding longing for connection and intimacy.

So we’ll operate 3½ stars out of 4 for this intriguing and impressive near-future romance.   On just about every level imaginable, Her computes.

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