LOVE IN THE TIME OF AI: In Spike Jonze's new film, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) falls for a computer program voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
City Paper grade: B+
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) loves Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Their romance develops slowly at first; they’re from different worlds, and he’s still wounded from his failed marriage. But as they get to know each other better, there’s no question that their love is real. Would now be a good time to mention that Samantha is a computer program?
To be more precise, Samantha is an operating system, introduced into a future Los Angeles where human interaction is waning. Theodore, a former alt-weekly writer, works for a company called BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, where he dictates mock-personal correspondence to a computer that then prints it out in a facsimile of human script. There are parents and children, husbands and wives, whose whole lives are built on his letters. But IRL contact is tougher for Theodore — at least until Samantha comes along.
Her, whose setting is a placeless fusion of the real L.A. and Shanghai, presents itself as a movie about technology, but writer-director Spike Jonze isn’t overly concerned with the sci- in his sci-fi romance, or the fact that Samantha is a computer product who, in theory, would be source-code-bound to obey Theodore’s commands. What interests Jonze is love, and how — or whether — it survives the way that relationships allow people to change, sometimes in incompatible directions. Johansson’s voice-only performance places Samantha as a girl-next-door type, developing unfamiliar emotional needs and then disguising them with jokes; you don’t need to see her eyes to picture her waiting for the right response. It’s a magnificently designed film, shot in smoggy pastels with the (human) characters in collarless retro-chic shirts. But it’s also more intellectualized than it could have been, as if Jonze is waiting for the audience to meet him halfway as well.
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