After all the Oscar-season hype you may have heard about “Her,” a movie in which a guy falls in love with the voice of his computer operating system, it might be necessary to dial down the expectations a little.
Not that this isn't a terrific little movie. But the quiet, reflective quality that pervades “Her,” essential to the emotional and psychological journey it takes us on, might not be what everybody's expecting.
Director-screenwriter Spike Jonze (“Adaptation,” “Being John Malkovich”) has whipped up another mind-trippy story, and this one has a great big heart. It's also not kid stuff, with frank sexual talk and a bit of blue language.
In the not-too-distant future in Los Angeles, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a Hallmark-type writer of special-occasion personal letters for people who don't have the gift to put words together — or maybe just don't want to go to the trouble. He's part of a whole company of personal ghost writers.
He's really good at his job. Theodore, a blind date (Olivia Wilde) tells him, is a teddy bear.
But he's also recently split from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), someone he's known since childhood. He can't bring himself to sign the divorce papers. He's pretty blue, despite the best efforts of co-workers (Chris Pratt) and friends (Amy Adams) to cheer him up and get him back into the stream of life.
Then Theodore buys OS1, the first artificial-intelligence computer operating system, which brags that it's more than a brain. It's a consciousness. Pay attention to what Theodore tells the software sign-on app as it chooses a voice to talk to him.
Boy, does it choose well. From the first dusky purr of Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson), Theodore is delighted with his purchase. That little wireless earpiece becomes the joy of his life.
At least, at first. Like any movie about romantic relationships, this one has its share of complications. The romance moves across an arc of several stages, some very familiar and some unique to a situation in which your girlfriend doesn't have a face or a body.
Phoenix turns in a performance remarkable for its spontaneity, humanity and vulnerability. Most of what he has to say in this movie flickers across his face wordlessly yet communicates pretty clearly.
What Johansson is able to do with just her voice, in developing a character and a strong presence in the film, is nothing short of amazing. Amy Adams, too, is outstanding as the sympatico neighbor who has some relationship problems of her own to work through.
“Her” turns out to be about the nature of romance and relationships, and something more: how the age of personal electronics has affected them. It takes Theodore a while to wrap his head around what that voice in his ear can teach him. Also what he can never get from it.
It's something a lot of plugged-in people who see this movie will no doubt be thinking about as they leave the theater, perhaps arguing about what Ted decided, what was decided for him, and what the future is going to look like.
* * * * *
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of four)
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, voice of Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara
Rating: R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity
Running time: 2 hours, 6 minutes
Theaters: Aksarben, Bluffs 17, Majestic, Midtown, Oakview, Twin Creek, Village Pointe, Westroads