Joaquin Phoenix stares out of the movie poster for Her with a strangely bemused expression, a little like a puppy confronted with their own misdeeds but really not sure what its done wrong. Its an expression he wears for most of the film, that of someone truly lost, adrift one of those strange worlds that only seem to exist in movies where every has huge apartments and works in interestingly creative jobs. I think the film knows this though, and there is a level of artifice in the construction that rules throughout it, a strange, almost fairy-tale air that tries to talk about love, identity and belonging. Its all very, very, strange.
So the story of Her is the story of Theodore, a man who writes letters for other people and is in the late stages of a divorce. He lives alone, doesn't socialize much, and generally mooches his way through his life. And then, almost on a whim, he buys the latest think, a fully AI operating system ("OS") to manage his life. This asks him a few questions, and then sets up Samantha (Scarlett Johanssen), to do that job. The film charts their relationship, as Samatha grows and adapts, as Theodore starts to come out of himself, and as the two of them fall in love.
Probably the simple most interesting thing that makes the film work is that it takes Theodore and Samantha's relationship seriously, as do the people in it. This isn't a tale of some wierdo falling for a computer, its treated as a genuine relationship, that the world recognises as such. The only real negative reaction is his (ex) wife, and even that is played more as an out-flaring of ruin of their marriage, the same sort of reaction that he would get if he announced he was dating someone half his age. Their obstacles are unique of course, and the film has some fun exploring solutions for say, dating or intimacy, which is part of the charm of the whole exercise.
The performances tie up nicely too; Johanssen is bubbly and alive in a voice-only role, Phoenix is withdrawn and shut down. The supporting cast orbit around this pair but make the most of their screen time in important scenes. The direction is lovely; soft colours and dreamlike hues, combined with a lanquid pace that lets everything just breathe. I expect this, combined with the storyline, will leave some cold, but I just fell into it and really enjoyed it. It does get a little metaphysical at the end, which isn't wholly successful; this isn't trying to be a exploration of AI systems, for all it does say something about it in passing. But on the whole I really enjoyed spending time with the film, and it left me thinking on it through the next day.