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Your Wish Is Its Command

Her (2013)

Warner Brothers Pictures

These days, neither Spike Jonze nor Charlie Kaufman seems to have much fun working apart from the other. At first glance, the premise of Mr. Jonze’s “Her” suggests a return to zany form following “Where the Wild Things Are”: The new film concerns Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com writer who is in the midst of a divorce and developing romantic feelings toward Siri version 20.0, here known as Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). While parts of it are hilarious just as one would expect, the rest of the film takes on a surprisingly somber tone.

In this particular prognostication, the outsourcing of interpersonal relationships will be de rigueur: Phone sex lines will still very much be in demand. People will still be immersed in “Final Fantasy”-type computer games, hunting treasures and raising virtual children. Email will be so prevalent that one can in fact make a living writing customized heartfelt handwritten letters for paying customers. Computer personal assistants will become so self-aware that Samantha can take it upon itself to comb through Theodore’s writing portfolio, compile an anthology and submit it to a publisher. When Theodore introduces Samantha to his friends, not one of them even raises an eyebrow. Indeed, when you can have anything you want in a simulated relationship — with the exception of carnality — why would anyone bother with the various obstacles presented by the real thing? The lack of physical intimacy certainly hasn’t deterred long-distance relationships in our time.

Perhaps “Her” isn’t much of a commentary on technology after all. What has led to the divorce of Theodore and his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), certainly suggests that relationships are hard work. The breakup between Theodore’s friends/neighbors Amy (Amy Adams) and Charles (Matt Letscher) and — spoiler alert — the ultimate dissolution of Samantha further point to the fact that sometimes people (and computers) simply change. “Her” is wise and mature about relationships in a way reminiscent of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” which Mr. Kaufman wrote nearly a decade ago for Michel Gondry to direct. But Mr. Kaufman has since demonstrated, five years ago with “Synecdoche, New York,” that he’s evolved at a much faster pace.


Opens on Dec. 18 in New York and Los Angeles and on Feb. 14, 2014 in Britain.

Written and directed by Spike Jonze; director of photography, Hoyte van Hoytema; edited by Eric Zumbrunnen and Jeff Buchanan; music by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett; production design by K. K. Barrett; costumes by Casey Storm; produced by Mr. Jonze, Megan Ellison, Vincent Landay and Daniel Lupi; released by Warner Brothers Pictures (United States) and Entertainment Film Distributors (Britain). Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore), Scarlett Johansson (Samantha), Amy Adams (Amy), Rooney Mara (Catherine), Chris Pratt (Paul) and Olivia Wilde (Blind Date).


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