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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For all of us who consume the Real Housewives franchise like a Sommelier drinks a Ramona Pinot Grigiot (that is to say, with a whole lot of disgust followed by a slight pang of clever amusement) we have come to expect certain things, familiar characters if you will. That is why it was not at all surprising when Lydia McLaughlin unveiled her hidden secret weapon: a crazy mother. Yes, Jill Zarin has one. So does Marisol Patton (and I firmly believe the only reason she is still a Housewife of Miami is so that her mother will be around). Every woman on the Real Housewives of New Jersey is really just a crazy mother in one way or another. Beverly Hills wannabe Fetch tried to have a crazy mother but her mom was just as boring and striving as she was. No one wants a mom who tries. No one. But this Judy, well, she's something else entirely.
But let's talk about all the boring stuff first shall we? Wow, last night sure was a snooze. The most exciting thing about the first 20 minutes of the The Real Housewives of Orange County was, honestly, the hair accessories. First Lydia was wearing some sort of headband that is like something you put on baby girls that is like an elastic that has one burst of marabou on it. It is a mark, not of an attractive baby, but of an overly annoying mother. It shows you that this is the woman who would endanger the blood flow to her daughter's still developing brain so that she can be "fabulous" and everyone can ooh and coo at her one little sartorial flourish. It's as if these mothers think that having a little elastic headband will distract people from the fact that this tiny human being is quite literally sitting in its own s**t at that very moment. It does not.
Then we go to Alexis' bathroom where she was talking about God knows what with Our Lord and Savior Jim Bellino. Actually God does know because they were talking directly to him. I can't even hear the sounds of her voice anymore. It's like she is some sort of crazy dog whistle that operates on a frequency that is above human. Maybe she's talking directly to the lord in the same language that the crazy angel uses in Date with an Angel one of the best movies on HBO on constant repeat in my formative years. Anyway, Alexis then whips out what appears to be the world's last remaining Scrunchie. Yes, the one thing from the '90s that BuzzFeed has yet to find a way to create nostalgia around, and it is sitting right there in Alexis double-sided bathroom. It was an eggshell color and she put it in her hair and no elastic touched her precious locks because it had Scrunchie all around it. (Can you believe that there is a woman out there in the world right now who is a Scrunchie millionaire? Can you even deal with that? Can you accept the fact that she is not a Real Housewife of Somewhere? How is any of this even possible?)
What can we say about Gretchen? Oh, she's sad that Slade has to tend to his son with Spina Bifida and can't put a baby in her and all she can hear is the deafening ticks of her biological clock. She sat there on the couch talking to him and fiddling with a bit of elastic with a piece of Maribu on it that was once one of her garters but she can't wait to put on her baby's head. What can we say about Tamra? Oh, she's mad at Vicki for not coming to the Moving In Party for the Wines by Wives Dot Com office. First of all, this business does not need an office. It needs a Skype account and some guy at a laptop in a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Keep the overhead down people! And now Tamra and Vicky, who already have offices of their own, have vanity offices at some scummy industrial park somewhere in Tarzana. Is that even in Orange County? Who knows? Who cares! It's gross.
Speaking of Vicki, she had two very important conversations with men last night. First up was her son-in-law Ryan, who helped her put a car seat in her car with the help of the klieg lights he just had lying around in the garage. You know, as people do. Anyway, after the seat Vicki was like, "Listen, Ryan. I want Brooks to come by the house." And Ryan said, "No, sorry. We didn't agree to that. I have safety concerns." OK, I hate Brooks as much as the next person and he is a bigger grifter than Anjelica Huston in The Grifters, but he is not a "safety concern." What is he worried about? That Brooks is going to kidnap his baby and hold him for ransom and he's going to have to get a suitcase full of unmarked bills or something? That is just silly. But Vicki pushed and said she wanted Brooks to come and Ryan said, "Well, we're moving out then." And Vicki said OK. Ryan is pissed, she is pissed but wants him to say everything is fine, and he just walked into the house without saying a word.
Then Vicki had dinner with Brooks. First of all the waitress comes over and he was like, "I'd like to order Vicki martinis," as if he's out to dinner with the world's most famous person and the waitress should just immediately know what that is. She looked at him quizzically and he said, "You know it's a martini with olives but..." and then Vicki finished his sentence "with, you know, blue cheese in the olives." She says it embarrassed like she doesn't want to bother the waitress to go through all this trouble to make the drink or like a child whose mother just mad her "do that thing" for company. But she does. Also, O to the Em Gee! When was this a Vicki Martini? Like Season 3? How long ago was that? And Brooks wasn't even there for it! I would say this was like when you go visit your mom and she was like, "I made your favorite: Sloppy Joes!" but you haven't had a Sloppy Joe since the last time you went to visit her and you stopped liking them somewhere around your 17th birthday but you just can't figure out how to tell your mom you don't like Sloppy Joes when it brings her so much joy to make them for you. I would say it's like that, but it's not. It's more like having dinner with Tina Fey and the waitress comes over and you're like, "Can we get some Cheesy Blasters. Right? Right? Amiright?!" Embarrassing.
Anyway, at the dinner Brooks said that he wants to come and visit but Vicki said that they won't let him and he tells them that it's her house and she makes the rules and they should do what she says. Give me an NRA membership and call me Strom Thurmon, but Brooks is actually right. Brianna and Ryan have no right to tell Vicki who can and can't be in her house. However, both parties need to pressure her to make a choice. The problem here is not that they don't like each other, it's that Vicki seems perfectly happy having both sides at odds with each other because it means she gets everything. She gets to see Brooks and live with her daughter. They both need to tell her, listen, you need to pick between the two of us and we will move on from there. That is what has happened. Vicki can not have Brooks and the rest of her friends and family, so she needs to decide. I've said that a million times, but there it is again.
Heather Dubrow got a part on Hot in Cleveland which I think of as less of a sitcom and more of a government assistance program for aging actresses without retirement plans. Heather has finally gotten her chance in the unemployment lottery and will be on the show. Good for her. I can't wait to see her tape her episode on her reality type television program.
What I really don't like is this Heather and Terry's Bickering Theater nonsense that we keep getting invited to. It just doesn't seem genuine. It seems like she is getting mad at silly petty things that he said disingenuously to get a rise out of him. I get it, that's annoying, but we don't need to see them fight. Can't we just have one Hosuewives couple that gets along and is in a happy marriage. Actually we have a handful (Mario & Ramona and Mauricio & Kyle come to mind) but can we have another one? Can we have one on OC? Please. Thanks guys.
OK, are you ready? It's now time to talk about Sweet Judy Blue Eyes. Now when you think of Lydia's mother, you don't think of a real actual human being, you think of the witch who sprinkled magic dust on a chicken carcass and brought it to life. Well, it turns out, Judy is just that. Judy lives in a place called the Land of the Bunnies, and there everything is happy and wonderful and everyone is in harmony with the earth. Everything is made out of jade crystals and everyone makes their living as turquoise jewelry salespeople on the sides of the road in New Mexico. Their bunnies don't hop and play in the meadow all day, they walk upright and tell you what to do. They are your lords and masters and they make sure that everyone is kind to nature and wears flowy outfits from the Stevie Nicks Collection for Chicos.
Yes, Judy is sort of like Glenda the Good Witch if Glenda had a gravity bong set up in her bathtub. When she encounters a stranger, she needs to sprinkle them with her magic dust and say a little prayer so that they are in her world too. "Shimmer of hope. Shine of belief. Shock of humor," she says as the dust she keeps in a little magical jar rains down on everyone around her. Judy's other magical gift is that she can make money appear from nowhere. Yes, she is rich. She just has money to throw around like they're rainbows on a clear day in a field where the sun beats down on the grass and a handsome naked man with long hair approaches in slow motion through the wild flowers to lay you down on a hillside and suckle your various nectars.
The problem is, Lydia does not like the Land of the Bunnies. She doesn't want her mother to live there and the two times that she has visited she has had to call her mother right away and have her come pick her up and rescue her and take her someplace real and cold and cynical. It is a church. Yes, Lydia lives in the House of the Lord and that seems diametrically opposed to where Judy has built her marshmallow palace. I guess it makes sense. We all rebel against our parents in many ways and the more extreme the parents usually the more extreme the rebellion. If your mom is essentially a Wiccan priestess that you would rebel by becoming a Puritan.
The problem is Lydia is winning. She has lured her mother out of the Land of the Bunnies permanently. She told Judy that her babies (one of which has the Christian name "Maverick") are going to live the holy life of the church and no Priestess of the Bunnies is ever going to love and cuddle her spawn. So Judy has left the Bunnies behind and has gone to live in the real world with the rest of us. When we meet Judy, her color has faded and her wind in her hair has died down to something that leaves her locks languid. We see them shopping and we see them at lunch and you can tell, just tell, that Judy misses the bunnies, oh yes she does. She thinks about them with every stray thought and thinks about bringing them up at every lull in the conversation, but she does not. She lives the life of a sad exile.
But as soon as lunch was over and Lydia drove away, Judy got in her car and she looked out on the sad parking lot in front of her. It was nothing but pavement and that green brown grass that is as brittle as overly-dyed hair. There were yellow lines and the haze of the hot afternoon making them flit a bit back and forth. She couldn't take it anymore. Judy had to go home. She took out her magic pipe and inhaled. This is the kind of pipe where you suck in instead of blowing out, and a little tune played. The world swirled around her and suddenly she was there, bright and relaxed and she saw the bunnies approaching the car.
"Welcome back, Judy," a big one, called Britghtstar, said to her. He was brown with a white belly and blue eyes. "Would you like to come to a picnic?" he asked, opening her car door. He took her hand and she stepped out. Suddenly she was wearing a violet gown and there were streamers hanging from a floral crown around her head. Judy was so delighted to be back, so happy to get going to a picnic. The parking lot was gone and before her there was a sea of dandelions just all yellow and magical and all you could hear was the buzzing of invisible bees going about their work. Brightstar still had her hand and she started to wade through the weeds towards whatever lunch awaited her. She took several slow steps, getting her bearings in this world that she had left for months.
"No," Brightstar said, stopping her for a moment. "Here we only skip."
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