Steven Sheehan’s review published on Letterboxd:
Come on, admit it. You’re in love. In love with that device under your fingers. You cradle it with affection. Tenderly ensure it is safe at night. When you close your eyes you keep it close at hand. Clothe it in safe protection. Feed it all juice it can devour. It holds onto your memories, controls your daily communication and just makes you feel pretty damn cool. Go on, admit it. You’re in love.
Above all else It is company. When you wake up. On the way to and from work. At the train station. Before you go to sleep. Nobody wants to be alone and we’ve ensured we never have to be any more. Spike Jonze takes it a stage further, although not beyond the realms of imagination. Merely a number of steps forward to the time that we will inhabit in the not too distant future.
The idea of sentient machines that can engage with us on an equal intellectual and emotional footing is one that has existed for as long as you care to imagine. The control of our own duplication, men turned into God’s. It’s a role we play as we nurture our children’s early years into mini-models of ourselves.
Her doesn’t promise to touch on these themes although it does play around in the same universe of technology and meaningful human interaction. It offers to explore the feeling of isolation that has evolved across time as our connection with hardware has become ever more central to our daily lives. Something that conflicts with our human need for real-life emotional contact.
Phoenix’s Theodore is set-up with a quiet yet romantic persona working for an online company who provide handwritten letters on behalf of other people to their loved ones. He lives alone, plays video-games, wears high-waist trousers and is struggling to get over his divorce. Then along comes Scarlett Johansson’s silky voice to whisk him away. The more time they spend together, the closer bond and relationship they appear to develop.
What hurts the film is a lack of real heart, a connection to make any of this truly resonate. Rather than seem endearing, Theodore’s lack of emotional understanding makes you believe he deserves to be alone writing letters. His character feels cynically created to sympathise with, a feeble, pathetic guy who just needs a hug. On far too many occasions it begins to look like a uninspiring bigger budget indie film as we watch Phoenix wistfully-looking out into a sunlight sky, not followed too far behind by a piano led score.
Set in the near future, the idea that falling in love with an operating system is one that is wholly believable, given the exponential growth of technology. Jonze is more interested in the love story between the two rather than looking too heavily into the problems that can arise from such a seemingly unnatural situation. Which is fine if there is a spark that makes their affection seem real, that we are experiencing their notions of love along with them. They rarely seem as one, a couple, two ‘people’ who have found a connection. There is a coldness that is hard to thaw out and understand why Theodore finds this operating system so alluring.
Like Phoenix’s character the film is wrapped too tightly within its own bubble, wasting precious time navel-gazing with a shallow script that leaves you on the perimeter. The diversion of his failed marriage and the pale love story combined with the lack of exploration into the techno/human conflict leaves you feeling empty. By the time we reach the ending it has sauntered out to a rather mediocre conclusion that has failed to push many buttons. For an idea with so much potential, that is the most disappointing aspect of all.