We are in the near future in Her, but many questions remain the same, including, "How do you know if love is real?"
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix in a performance of warmth, tenderness and vulnerability) works at a company that hand-writes letters for people who no longer have the time. He's definitely part of the high-tech world he lives in, but he's also a little old-fashioned. He is put off, for instance, by a kinky woman who tries to have phone sex with him (Kristen Wiig, in a very funny vocal cameo), he can't bring himself to sign the papers that will end his marriage, and the sentiments in the letters he writes connect him to a previous, more romantic age.
Which is why it's so jarring when shy Theodore falls in love with a computer operating system.
A futuristic romantic drama about loneliness and the difficulty of connecting, Her is a true original that probably will speak to fans of Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I don't think it's quite as good as Eternal Sunshine, which I'd call a masterpiece, but it, too, is sometimes playful, sometimes wistful, sometimes miserable and, despite it all, always hopeful about the possibility of finding love in a future that looks only a little different from our present.
The movie is matter-of-fact in its acceptance that Theodore's regard for the computer OS, called Samantha (and voiced empathetically by Scarlett Johansson), is heart-felt but, like any love, the possibility remains that it won't last.
There's a foreign quality to it, since there is no physical manifestation of Samantha (the movie brings new meaning to the phrase "computer dating"), but the feelings Theodore experiences do not feel foreign at all. Regardless of the form it takes, Her seems to be saying, love is pretty much the same.
"Anybody who falls in love is a freak. It's a crazy thing to do," says Theodore's friend, Amy (Amy Adams, sexier and more free than usual).
Is Theodore's love a little crazier than most and is he fixating on a computer because he's not quite ready to deal with people? Yeah, maybe. But, um, have you ever spent a little too much time on a computer, talking to people who aren't in the room?
Her understands that technology sometimes prevents us from connecting with one another, but it also says technology can teach us how to be with one another. Writer/director Spike Jonze's sweet and tender movie takes the long view of love, wherever we find it, suggesting that most of us need to go a little crazy before we finally figure out what we want.
R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity. Warner Bros. 2:00. Fayette Mall, Hamburg, Nicholasville.