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.
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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.
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We were so thrilled with the recent news that Louis C.K. is returning to Parks and Recreation to rustle the recent reunion between Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott) that we got to thinking. Louis C.K. was such a killer guest star on Parks -- there have to be more of his kind. And once we started thinking about it, we realized there's an overabundance of great romantic guest stars on our favorite sitcoms, which means we had to whittle it down to a few of our favorites. Maybe we're not that great at whittling, because we've still got 12, but they're all pretty unforgettable so I'm sure you'll forgive us.
Louis C.K. on Parks & Recreation
The comedian's comedian stopped by Pawnee, Ind. for a few episodes to let his bumbling character, Dave, steal fair Leslie's heart. While their romance almost hit the skids before it started thanks to that whole Madeline Albright/ Leslie's grandma confusion, Louis C.K. eventually made a good impression by putting up with Leslie's drunken late-night visit and her tireless tirade on the pre-teen bully/vandal/prankster/Bart Simpson wannabe, Greg Pikitis. Dave never really knew quite the right thing to say, but he was always earnest and sweet, and he made Leslie light up like a Christmas Tree. His return spells trouble for Beslie (is that what we call them?), but I'm still amped to see him come back.
Matt Damon on 30 Rock
I struggled with choosing Michael Sheen or Matt Damon for this entry, but then I remembered the explosive breakup between Carol Burnett (Damon) and Liz (Tina Fey). Sorry, Wesley Snipes (Sheen), "Gangway for Footcycle" gets me everytime, but nothing beats a pilot's discount at Sunglass hut. Damon was pitch perfect for Liz; from his name (a reference to Liz and Fey's comedy heroine), to his constant references to mundane pilot perks that Liz would enjoy more than any other human, to his stalwart love for her show (which no one else in the world seems to give two cheesy blasters about), Carol is perfect for Liz...for a little while anyway. Eventually, they get points for the best breakup ever because they both hold up an entire plane in order for them to figure out they're just too similar. Classic.
Elizabeth Banks on 30 Rock
Just as Liz met her double in Carol, Jack (Alec Baldwin) met his match in Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks), the conservative financial reporter. Together, they worshipped Ronald Reagan, bought their daughter a saddle to ride the maid, and both shreiked with terror when their baby was not only born in CANADA, but with the help of socialized medicine. The horror. Avery too, had to say farewell, and in another dramatic way -- she was kidnapped and taken to North Korea, never to be heard from again. This show sure knows how to get rid of a guest star, eh?
Woody Harrelson on Will & Grace
I promise, I'm not trying to write about all NBC series, but man do they get great guest stars. You may remember that Connick Jr. was the yin to Grace's (Debra Messing) yang as Dr. Leo Markus, but by far, her best boyfriend had to be the slovenly Nathan (Harrelson). As her neighbor, Nathan first drives her crazy, but of course hate turns to sexual tension and they end up together for a good chunk of Season 3. Of course, their breakup circumstances are pretty hilarious as well -- they all stem from Nathan's cry of "Marry me" during sex. They're awkward around eachother until Grace decides that in order to fix it, she'll propose to him. But he says no and breaks it off. Word to the wise: don't propose marriage during bedroom activities.
Luke Wilson on That 70s Show
We thought nothing could come between Eric (Topher Grace) and Donna (Laura Prepon), but apparently all it takes is a Kelso. No, not Michael (Ashton Kutcher), but Casey Kelso the Trans-Am-driving charmer sure does the trick. He's slimy and the complete anti-Eric, but he knows how to play the system and he's old enough to drink beer. Swoon, amirite? He's just as dumb as his younger brother, but he's so charming, that Donna doesn't seem to catch on until Bob orders Donna to stop dating him and Casey doesn't seem to care. She wanted a laid-back dude, didn't she?
Megan Mullally on Parks & Recreation
As Ron Swanson's (Nick Offerman) second ex-wife, Tammy, Mullally draws on the already hilarious relationship with her real life husband (Offerman) to simultaneously terrify Ron and whip him into a disgustingly sexual frenzy. And her second appearance sees the craziest Ron we've ever witnessed, with cornrows, a boxing robe and a lack of mustache -- from the friction. Shudder.
Kristen Bell on Party Down
If there's anyone better to play a tiny, adorable, unbearably uptight girlfriend and catering manager, point me in their direction, but I think you'll find that Kristen Bell is the tops. She played Uda, Henry Pollard's (Adam Scott) girlfriend after fellow cater waiter Casey (Lizzy Caplan) breaks his heart. She's terrifying, even when she's not on screen, and her love of mundane things like The Mentalist are just the icing on the cake. Her proposal for Henry to give her a call for a date is one of the most haunting comedic moments in recent memory.
on Family Guy
Brian is obnoxiously pseudo-intellectual. He constantly assumes he's so much smarter than every other person on the show, though he's constantly shown to be completely pretentious. Nothing quite drives that point into the ground like his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Jillian. She was gorgeous, blonde and a complete and total idiot. She completely puffs up Brian's confidence in that she's so hot and that she constantly needs him to explain just about everything to her. "How do I know if I'm Jewish?" "Are you Jewish?" "Nope." "There you go, sport."