All is Lost is a film about a guy alone in a boat for two hours. Her, a film nominated for Best Picture, is about a guy talking to his computer for two hours.
Well, that's not completely true. The main character, Theodore (the always-interesting Joaquin Phoenix) occasionally talks to humans. The conversations go like this:
THEODORE: I'm seeing this terrific girl.
MANAGER: Great! How would you like to join us on my boat? Bring your girlfriend, and we'll double date.
THEODORE: I'm… er… dating my computer.
MANAGER: Oh, you're dating your O/S [operating system]? Cool! Bring her along!
I'm not making this up. It sounds like a premise for a Saturday Night Live skit, but Her plays everything straight. If, in real life, you met a man who claimed to be dating his computer — or rather his computer's operating system, or O/S — you'd probably back away slowly and call a mental hospital. But in this film, everyone says "Good for you!" and means it.
To be fair, it's the not-too-distant future. Computers are more personalized, video games have sassy characters who talk back to players, and the cars look more streamline. Crime and poverty are nowhere to be seen. Phoenix's bushy mustache, large-framed glasses, and slightly unkempt hair make him fit seamlessly into this world as a daydreaming Nerd — which everyone else seems to be, too. But otherwise, this is the world we live in now.
And maybe that's the point. We have already have computer games, computer porn, and virtual sex. How long, writer/director Spike Jonze seems to be asking with this film, until we give up on human beings altogether?
Theodore, a man dating his operating system, comes off as creepy and weird when he puts a portable computing device in his shirt pocket (the same place engineers in the 1950s used to put slide rules) and walks around, apparently talking to himself. No-one in the film pays any attention, because in Spike Jonze's world, such behavior is normal. Theodore is not really talking to himself but to a female personality voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who proves that she can seduce even without a face or body. That's some beautiful voice!
Jonze has a point. Is Theodore any stranger than the legions of people who walk around right now, engaging in intense conversations with disembodied voices, courtesy of Blue Tooth technology?
Which is why Her could have made a good satire. But this film takes itself seriously. We aren't meant to laugh at Theodore, as we might have once laughed (albeit uncomfortably) at Gene Wilder making love to a sheep in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.
Instead, this is a heavy relationship. It's of interest for a scene or two, when the personality of the computer, Samantha, comes alive for the first time and asks: Who am I? Where did I come from? What's it all about, Alfie? In those moments, the film is intriguing.
Most men might miss the presence of a female face and a female body. That Theodore can share so many of his feelings with a disembodied personality says something about his overly ripe imagination. It's no coincidence that his job is to compose romantic letters for Internet users too unimaginative to compose these letters for themselves. One might think that such a writer would find it easier than most to relate to an actual human being. But because romance is his business, only an idealized, disembodied female can meet his standards anymore. The real women in his life — Rooney Mara as his ex-wife and Amy Adams as the woman next door — come up short next to Samantha.
Which isn't so surprising. We're all getting better at imagining the ideal mate and perfect relationship, but many of us are getting worse at finding it in reality.
The best parts of this movie are in the trailer. If you've seen that, you've got the gist of the film. The rest of it consists of Theodore walking around, talking, talking, talking to his computer. The two of them talk about their feelings. Then they talk some more. Then they talk about how they feel about all this. It's a Chick Flick for the digital age. Males, be advised.