Spike Jonze doesn't waste any time introducing us to the technology at the center of Her. "An operating system that can mimic human sentience?" a dangerously lonely Joaquin Phoenix wonders after catching glimpse of an ad in a transit station. "Don't mind if I do!" (He doesn't actually say that, don't worry.) But by the time we're meant to believe that such a world can seamlessly integrate characters like Scarlett Johansson's automated voice Samantha into the lives of living, breathing men and women like Phoenix's Theodore, we're already established residents of this arresting, icy, quivering world the filmmaker has built. We meet Theodore midway through his recitation of a "handwritten letter" he penned on behalf of a woman to her husband of many years. That's his job — tapping into his own unique sensititivies to play ghostwriter for people hoping to adorn their spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, and children with personal notes of personal affection. Theodore is no independent contractor; he's part of a thriving company, and we almost get the feeling that the folks on the receiving end of these letters are in the know. Before we ever encounter Samantha, we're embedded in the central conceit of the movie: emotional surrogacy is an industry on the rise.
What makes Jonze's world so palatable is that, beneath its marvelously eerie aesthetic, this idea is barely science-fiction. Theodore, humbled and scarred by a recent divorce from lifelong love Catherine (Rooney Mara, who contrasts Johansson by giving a performance that, for a large sum of the movie, is all body and no voice), accesses the will to go on through interractions with video game characters and phone-sex hotlines. But the ante is upped with Samantha, the self-named operating system that Theodore purchases to stave off loneliness, deeming choice a far less contorting one than spending time with old pals like Amy (Amy Adams)... at first.
Samantha evolves rather quickly from an articulate Siri into a curious companion, who is fed and engaged by Theodore just as much as she feeds and engages him. Jonze paces his construction of what, exactly, Samantha is so carefully that we won't even catch the individual steps in her change — along with Theodore, we slowly grow more and more enamored and mystified by his computer/assistant/friend/lover before we can recognize that we're dealing with a different being altogether from the one we met at that inceptive self-aware "H-hello?" But Jonze lays tremendous groundwork to let us know this story is all for something: all the while, as the attractions build and the hearts beat faster for Samantha, we foster an unmistakable sense of doom. We can't help but dread the very same perils that instituted one infamous admission: "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
But Jonze's sci-fi constructs are so cohesively intertwined with his love story that our dread doesn't exactly translate to an anticipation of HAL's hostile takeover. Her wedges us so tightly between Theodore and Samantha that our fears of the inevitable clash between man and machine apprehend a smaller, more intimate ruin. As Samantha's growth become more surprising and challenging to Theodore, to herself, and to us, the omens build for each.
And although all three parties know better, we cannot help but affix ourselves to the chemistry between Theodore and Samantha, and to the possibility that we're building toward something supreme. A good faction of this is due to the unbelievable performances of Phoenix — representing the cautious excitement that we all know so painfully well — and Johansson, who twists her disembodied voice so empathetically that we find ourselves, like Theodore, forgetting that we have yet to actually meet her. The one castigation that we can attach to the casting of Johansson is that such a recognizable face will, inevitably, work its way into our heads when we're listening to her performance. It almost feels like a cheat, although we can guarantee that a performance this good would render a figure just as vivid even if delivered by an unknown.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
In this way, Her is as effective a comment on the healthiest human relationships as it is on those that rope in third parties — be they of the living, automated, or greeting card variety. In fact, the movie has so many things to say that it occasionally steps on its own feet, opening up ideas so grand (and coloring them so brightly) that it sometimes has trouble capping them coherently. Admittedly, if Spike Jonze had an answer to some of the questions he's asking here, he'd probably be suspected of himself being a super-intelligent computer. But in telling the story of a man struggling to understand what it means to be in love, to an operating system or not, Jonze invites us to dissect all of the manic and trying and wonderful and terrifying and incomprehensible elements therein. Just like Samantha, Her doesn't always know what to do with all of its brilliance. But that might be part of why we're so crazy over the both of them.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
UPDATE: While monitoring NBC's ratings may not be the most enthralling of games, watching as the peacock network rolls out its slate of new series is always diverting. We've watched the 2012 lineup of Chelsea Handler-inspired sitcoms and fedora-dependent dramas parade out before the viewing public, only for many of the flashier series to scamper off back to the place from whence they came. (Okay, okay. Are You There, Chelsea? is this close to scampering, but give it time, my friends.) But no matter which ones stick and which ones flop, NBC continually rolls things that make you go "Huh?" This year, we're once again doing the pug head tilt as we flip through the promising, perplexing and intriguing pilot-to-series pick-ups, just in time for next week's upfronts.
Hannibal Starring Hugh Dancy
The network has picked up ten episodes of Hannibal, a series about one of cinema's most beloved villains: Hannibal Lecter, immortalized by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon. Our Idiot Brother star Hugh Dancy is on board as Special Agent Will Graham (formerly played by Edward Norton in Red Dragon.)
1313 Mockingbird Lane Starring Eddie Izzard
In the 1960s, television introduced The Munsters: a life action fantasy-comedy about a family of working-class monsters (Frankenstein's monster, his vampire wife, their werewolf son, and Grandpa, a.k.a. Count "Sam" Dracula). NBC has picked up a reboot of the series, stressing the horror aspect. However, with comedian Eddie Izzard cast as Grandpa, there is likely to be a good deal of humor as well. NBC has picked up 13 episodes of 1313 Mockingbird Lane (a very apropos amount.)
Crossbones from the Creator of Luther
With cannibals and monsters on the way, NBC is covering all bases in terms of the dark and criminal: how about pirates? The network has ordered 10 episodes of Crossbones, a pirate-themed drama from Neil Cross, creator of Luther. The series is adapted from The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard, and is set in the 1700s.
Revolution Starring Giancarlo Esposito
When all of the world's electricity suddenly and suspiciously disappears, humanity is forced to pick up and start anew. Of course, easier said than done. Fifteen years after the incident, the world is overtaken by militant societies operating with guerilla warfare. When one girl loses her entire immediate family, she is forced to pick up and find a relative whom she hasn't seen since the planet lost its power. And of course, one question persists: why on Earth did this all happen in the first place?
Do No Harm Starring Steven Pasquale
Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde will be reinvented with a new, modern twist in Do No Harm. The new series stars Rescue Me's Steven Pasquale as an ingenious neurosurgeon, plagued by his malevolent, monstrous alter ego. Joining Pasquale are The Cosby Show's Phylicia Rashad and Law & Order's lana De La Garza.
Infamous Starring Meagan Good
NBC is delving into the world of soap operas and detective stories with Infamous (previously titled Notorious). The series stars Meagan Good who goes undercover among the wealthy family for whom her mother worked as housekeeper when Good's character was a child. She is bent on investigating the murder of one of the family members, who was also her childhood best friend. The series also features Victor Garber and Damages' Tate Donovan.
Guys with Kids Starring Anthony Anderson
In light of the recent "Having kids is funny" theme that is sweeping the comedy world, NBC has picked up Guys with Kids, a sitcom about three friends who are new fathers, all the while suspended in their own adolescence. Star Anthony Anderson actually tried this once already as a movie: My Baby's Daddy, back in 2004. But let's hope this time around, the project has a little more to it. The West Wing's Jesse Bradford, The Sopranos' Jamie-Lynn Sigler and The Cosby Show's Tempestt Bledsoe also star.
Chicago Fire from Creator Dick Wolf
Law & Order mastermind Dick Wolf has spent most of his career looking at the crime-laden streets of New York City, with a few trips to Los Angeles here and there. But Wolf's newest series, Chicago Fire, will focus on a team of fire fighters in the Windy City. The program stars Vampire Diaries' Taylor Kinney, Hawaii Five-0's Lauren German, and House's Jesse Spencer as members of a (if this is the same Dick Wolf we're talking about) entertaining but no-nonsense and dedicated fire department.
1600 Penn Starring Josh GadLike NBC's 30 Rock, which takes place (obviously) at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York, 1600 Penn is set at the house every American can recognize in a matter of seconds: The White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Along with President Obama's former speech writer Jon Lovett and Modern Family director Jason Winer, Book of Mormon star Josh Gad penned this sitcom centered on the First family, a group who turns out to be just as messed up as the rest of us. Gad will star alongside Bill Pullman (who will play the President of the United States once again) and Brittany Snow co-stars as the First daughter.
Animal Practice Starring Weeds' Justin Kirk
You had us Justin Kirk, but just to humor NBC, let's dig into the details. Kirk stars as a vet (as in an animal doctor, not a guy who runs the pancake breakfasts at your church) who tends to side more with the animals he operates on than their owners. Tyler Labine (Reaper) and Bobby Lee (MadTV) costar, but they'll have to wrestle for screen time because Kirk's animal hospital will also include a monkey, presumably in a tiny white lab coat. Go On Starring Matthew Perry The series sounds promising enough — a sportscaster who suffers a great loss finds solace in his support group — just imagine the Former Mr. Chandler Bing as the smug sports guy finally coming to the conclusion that it's okay to get something out of group therapy. However, we've seen this before. In fact, it's almost too familiar. This series is practically an evolution from the last two series Perry tried to get off the ground: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Mr. Sunshine. He's a flippant sportscaster dealing with loss; it basically offers to combine the gravity of Aaron Sorkin's SNL-inspired dramedy with the silly, quippy nature of Mr. Sunshine. That sounds like a perfectly adept progression... now let's just see if it sticks. The New Normal from Creator Ryan Murphy From the creator of Glee and American Horror Story comes a regular family sitcom about a gay couple (The Hangover's Justin Bartha and Book of Mormon's Andrew Rannells,) their surrogate (Georgia King) and their children. Ellen Barkin co-stars as the surrogate's (hopefully delightfully icy) mother and Murphy favorite NeNe Leakes (The Real Housewives of Atlanta) has secured a recurring role. No matter what happens with Leakes and Queen Barkin, there's no way the perfect pairing of Bartha and Rannells won't be worth tuning in at least once. Save Me Starring Anne Heche Anne Heche may have earned her designer shoes by heading up series like Men in Trees and earning roles on Hung and Ally McBeal, but she still can't manage to escape the stigma of her mental breakdown in 2000. Still, we've got to give the girl kudos, because she's getting back on the horse — by playing a woman doing the exact same thing. Heche stars as a woman in a broken marriage who decides to better herself, and produces miracles along the way. It's always a risk bringing miraculous happenings into play on a sitcom, but the quirky Heche might be just the girl to do it. Revolution from J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke Not satisfied with past attempts to capture the post-apocalyptic mindset on television, Revolution attempts to traverse the territory for NBC. The series will follow a group of survivors (including Breaking Bad's Giancarlo Esposito and Twilight's Billy Burke) as they struggle in the new American landscape bereft of technology and civil order. Sure, it sounds a little like Cormac McCarthy's bestseller The Road, but with a sizeable ensemble cast like Revolution's, there will be plenty of series-worthy drama to weave into the otherwise bleak landscape.
Matthew Perry's NBC Series a Go Bill Pullman Gets Presidential (Again) With NBC Giancarlo Esposito Joins J.J. Abrams' Revolution
[Image: Daily Celeb]