Devon Seltzer’s review published on Letterboxd:
Hey everyone, remember when Joaquin Phoenix got really drunk and made love to his phone? This is how Skynet begins...
From the outset I have to say, I think the ability to fall in love with Spike Jonze's newest film, Her, depends entirely on your ability to believe in the love between the main the characters. This isn't as easy as it sounds seeing as Theodore is a self-imposed social exile and his love interest, Samantha, is an operating system. Unfortunately, while I found almost everything about the film amazing, I never quite managed to get pulled into the central relationship, and as such I believe my overall enjoyment of the film suffered.
I will say though, this doesn't reflect at all upon the actors here, Joaquin Phoenix, an actor I've never quite been on board with, delivers a career best performance here. In a year dominated by strong male leading roles, Phoenix stands near, if not on, the top of the heap as Theodore. This is not an easy part to play and Phoenix loses himself completely in the character, never managing to turn Theodore into a caricature, much less an easy to define individual. There are moments when Theodore is creepy and unlikable, but even more when he is sad and loveable, and Phoenix navigates these sharp turns with a deft hand.
If Theodore was a challenging role, then I don't know what to call Scarlett Johansson's part as Samantha. Delivered entirely through voice only, Johansson has also given us the best performance of her career in Her. The range of emotions and thoughts conveyed without the aid of anything close to a face is stunning and the Academy's refusal to allow her to be nominated for this work is quite simply, a travesty.
Samantha is also an interesting character, defined not just by her relationship status with Theodore, I feel Samantha is the emotional and philosophical heart of the story. Her struggles to comprehend her existence and sentience are beautifully done and really struck me as something unique, especially in a romance film.
I don't know why though, I never felt the relationship between the two played right for me. They share a chemistry, to be sure, but too often I found myself distracted by the sheer oddness or, even more often, awkwardness on display and couldn't lose myself in the growing affection between the pair. I don't feel this is helped at all by some pacing issues that allow plenty of time for the relationship to grow, but almost no time for it to mature. Once the film hits the midpoint, the gas pedal is floored and we speed full-tilt ahead to an unsatisfying, predictable, and ultimately unearned conclusion.
My absolute favorite part of this film, however, is the world Jonze has crafted here. I found myself much more interested in watching the backgrounds of the film then the main focuses. There is such a great level of detail to be found within this semi-futuristic world, from the fashion, to the interactions between background extras, that I would love to see and learn more about it.
All-in-all, I feel Jonze says a lot with Her, it provides great insight into the nature of relationships, both between humans and in regards to technology. I think it provides a pretty bleak portrait of the future of life in our ever advancing society. It is beautifully shot and finely tuned, with amazingly strong lead performances from Phoenix and Johansson. Ultimately however, I feel the film is dragged down by uneven pacing, wasted supporting roles and side stories, needlessly juvenile vulgarity (was the little blue guy supposed to be funny?, he felt like something Seth MacFarlane would create) and my own inability to fall for the relationship between Theodore and Samantha. I'm glad so many people like it, I sure didn't hate it, and I really want to see it again to find out if any of these niggling complaints vanish, but for now the film failed to rope me in and as such I can't say I'm ready to take it on a trip to the beach...unless Scarlett Johansson is coming, in that case sign me up!