In Her, the central romance between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and his artificially intelligent operating system Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) is developed almost entirely through conversation, since Samantha doesn’t have a physical presence. As a result, virtually everything either character thinks or feels is plainly stated aloud, giving viewers little to assess for themselves. The film is its own CliffsNotes. And while it touches on various difficulties inevitable to a relationship between a metaphysically boundless AI and its primitive human prototype, there are no particularly fresh insights into what technology’s growing role in our emotional lives really means.
These issues might be forgiven if it were an otherwise affecting love story, but Phoenix’s lack of chemistry with both Johansson and Rooney Mara (who plays his ex-wife) prevents that from really working out.
The main thing I like about Her is its soft and colorful visual style, which is a kind of sanitized, daylight take on Blade Runner’s dreamy tech noir. Its idyllic but tepid environs make their own subtly effective statement about digitally-assisted social isolation. I just wish the other aspects of the narrative did more of that.