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Spike Jonze’s Her is a modern romance like no other

by Mark Burger

Her, the latest effort from the endlessly inventive and often indulgent Spike Jonze, is a romantic fantasy that offers a quirky, hi-tech twist on the traditional love story.

Set in a recognizable near-future, the story centers on Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a writer — of letters, for other people — nursing a broken heart after his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) leaves him. Desperately craving intimacy and an emotional connection, he becomes irresistibly infatuated with “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), his computer Operation System (“OS”).

Johansson’s sultry voice is put to perfect use (she replaced Samantha Morton, who originally voiced the role), making Samantha hard to resist simply on audio terms. Her isn’t as raunchy as it might have been, although Jonze does throw in some vulgar bits (some funny, some repetitive).

Despite the obligatory hi-tech elements of the piece, the human component is always present — thanks to Phoenix’s wistful, heartfelt performance. He’s effortlessly believable as the sensitive, lovelorn Theodore. Sharp-eared audiences will hear the familiar voices of Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Brian Cox and Jonze himself. As human characters, there are nice, if brief, appearances by Mara, Amy Adams as Theodore’s gal-pal, Olivia Wilde as a blind date gone wrong, and Portia Doubleday as a woman who becomes involved, if only briefly, in Theodore and Samantha’s “relationship” — an awkward scene given surprising emotional heft by Jonze and the actors.

If this is Jonze’s treatise on modern — or, perhaps, postmodern — romance, it is also something akin to a sex fantasy.

Samantha is a “perfect woman,” yet she doesn’t exist. She can’t exist, at least not in human terms. There’s something vaguely hopeless about their relationship, and the film, which runs over two hours (and scarcely needs to), takes its time finding the avenue to its conclusion, which to some extent is among its most conventional aspects. !

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