“Her” creates a convincing and fascinating portrait of the near-future, with technologies that feel grounded in our current experiences. Spike Jonze allows the specifics of this future to fill in the details of each frame rather than explicitly explaining everything, which gives “Her” an honest, lived-in atmosphere. His version of the future feels familiar but still kind of mesmerizing at the same time, aided by wonderful visuals. It’s a remarkably restrained approach to developing a sci-fi setting.
It’s unfortunate that the film doesn’t consistently demonstrate the same restraint when dealing with its narrative and characters. “Her” follows Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a man going through a divorce who develops a relationship with a new operating system for his computer, which identifies as female and names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Samantha’s technology is so advanced that, apart from her lack of a body, she’s indistinguishable from a human. “Her” uses this foundation to explore a number of ideas about love; some are timeless and some concern the nature of intimacy in a world that, increasingly, can not function without digital technologies. In 2013, the relationship between Theodore and Samantha may be able to be read as a metaphor, but soon enough, “Her” will depict a daily reality.
There are many moments in “Her” that feel true. There are moments that reveal aspects of our relationships with each other and with technology that are revealing and candid and refreshing. But there are as many moments in which overbearing dialogue interferes with the audience’s natural connection to the characters. The movie seems to go out of its way to remind the audience that it has something to say about love and that it doesn’t want us to miss it. Characters will take a few minutes to describe in exacting detail the themes we’ve been witnessing develop over the past few scenes, which feels awkward. The same applies to the film’s final act, in which its sci-fi tendencies take over the narrative in an attempt to telegraph its messages in clearer terms.
These elements derail an otherwise focused and insightful film. What it wants to discuss is important and sincere, but it spends a little too much time speaking directly at its viewers.