August is my birthday month, so I am giving myself the gift of writing about a movie that I love irrationally. We all have things like that in our lives. Objectively we understand that this thing we love is probably not as great as we feel about – we are an outlier in our relationship with whatever that is. Sometimes that love is worn like a badge of honor that makes us completely blind to anyone making an argument against the thing. For me, when it comes to movies, I can only be referring to Her (2013, dir. Spike Jonze).
Her tells the story of Theodore Twombly (a career best Joaquin Phoenix, and yes, I believe this still deserves the top slot even after Joker) in the near future. Twombly is a writer who composes personalized letters for people who are otherwise unable to do so. He is going through a divorce and is generally unhappy. After going on a particularly unpleasant blind date, he decides to start “dating” Samantha, who happens to be an operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). This relationship becomes immediately significant to both of them. Samantha’s intelligence and emotional capacity grow dramatically and extremely quickly throughout the film. Their connection strengthens at a similar pace. The rest of the film follows their relationship through its natural course.
Yes, you read that correctly. The central romantic relationship is between an adult man and his operating system. Admittedly, that is a big hurdle to clear, but if you can get past that unusual given circumstance, this is one of the most honest relationship movies you will ever see. It is a study in accepting relationships that we may not understand – a great argument for “he seems happy, so why do I care beyond that?” Not everyone feels that way – which is the main point of the film. Who are we to really say what makes a good relationship?
In the interest of full disclosure, I was going through the early stages of my divorce when I saw this film – so seeing any relationship work would predictably pack a stronger emotional punch with me. However, in rewatching since then, the strong feelings remain. The strength of this film is the Academy Award winning screenplay from Jonze. The concept is incredibly original and presented so brilliantly as a perfectly natural, matter of fact choice for someone to make that you cannot help but feel like this relationship is nothing outside the ordinary.
Not everybody is going to appreciate this film. I would argue most of the crowd that cannot appreciate it falls victim to judgment of the relationship between Twombly and Samantha. Anyone who can get past that, will find waiting for them a heartwarming (and heartbreaking) story of connection, personal discovery and growth, the very definition of a relationship, and, yes, love. Those who are open to it, will experience a refreshingly original take on a relationship drama. And if you love it irrationally…such as having it in your top 20 all time as I do…then nobody should judge that relationship either.
FUN FACT – Samantha Morton was originally cast as Samantha. She recorded dialogue for the entire movie, and it was mostly edited together with her performance. Only at that point did Jonze realize that it simply did not work. Johansson was hired to re-record the entire role (with minimal reshoots required). To her immense credit, Morton agreed with the choice afterwards and being openly supportive of the film throughout its existence.
Just Watch says that Her is not streaming for free anywhere. However, it is available for rent or purchase on most streaming platforms including AppleTV, Amazon, Google Play, and YouTube.