“her” Movie review: I got divorced by a real woman. So I started dating an OS. How do you think it will go?

Hello. This is a Korean in American writing from a jet plane heading home. While on vacation, I saw a small movie, “her" in limited release at the time. The movie was getting some rave reviews and was not playing near me. So, I deliberately sought it out.

It is an east coast hipster reviewers’ wet dream movie pushing their neurotic button like crazy!

For everyone else...?

I am not a hipster or a cinema snob although I do have some of their tendencies. I can palette neurotic or self-indulgence to a degree. I can even palette EMO to a degree. 

At the same time, I understand that there is a difference between movies one love and a well-made movie. So, I try to be objective.

But there is a limit to what I can swallow without gaging and "her" is just on the line. There are a lot of interesting elements in the movie but, at the same time, the movie irritates me in various ways.

The Plot
The movie follows this guy, Theodore, in his late 30s or early 40s who writes fake handwritten letters for other people in a not so distant future. He is going through a divorce and ends up buying a new self-aware OS which basically is a personal assistant. He starts dating this OS which calls herself "Samantha".

And that is it! I mean that is it for the plot.

We just tag along through a guy and an AI's dating journey which ends up being not that different from a normal relationship.

Is our protagonist, Theodore, interesting?
While "her" with a lower case 'h' is a science fiction movie, it is not a movie with any scope or scale. It is just about this male protagonist and his insular life.

You only see a few other characters he comes into contact on a daily basis.
You only get to see the world the movie is set in as it passes by the protagonist.

When you build a movie so tightly around one character, the character has to be interesting since we are spending almost every single minute with him.

So is the character interesting?

While the answer to this question is extremely up to one's tastes, I do not find him interesting. And I haven't stumbled on to a review that says they really like the character although they praise the performance of "Joaquin Phoenix". I think Joaquin Phoenix is OK but nothing to call home about.

Theodore is actually down right dull. His job is rather boring dictating letters to a computer that, then, prints the letter out using the client's handwriting on file. He is basically a hybrid between a greeting card writer and a ghost writer. His private life is also pretty empty as he only has one real friend after the break up with his wife.

His life seems to make mine exciting.

The Inward Focused Emotional Man
If I were to describe the main protagonist, Theodore, I would call him an inward focused emotional black hole. He has a lot of deep emotions but he cannot be called empathic because those emotions are used for himself to either feel happy or feel miserable. As a consequence of this characteristic, in relationships, he essentially feeds off the energy and attention of his mate and only gives emotionally to get more.

In other words, he is needy and neurotic! Think a less talky and a less Jewish version of an early career Woody Allen character he would play in his movies.

He is one of those guys that always think that "the good guys always finish last" and he is a "good guy". But he never thinks that he may not be a good buy but only a garden variety inward/introvert hipster who can be a real jerk sometimes...

Well frequently...

This is important because a large portion of the movie’s enduring qualities depends on how much you, as an audience member, empathize with the protagonist since, on paper, Theodore, is not that interesting of a character.  

And this is where the movie snagged for me. It was difficult to empathize with the protagonist.

I can be needy sometimes.
I feed off of other people's energy on occasion.

But these are not the personal characteristics I'm proud of as a person. This movie is rather unapologetic about those things and asks for acceptance in a way. So, as the movie became more indulgent in who the protagonist is, the movie began to lose me.

What's the point?
This type of movie, which does not have strong plot, requires a rather poignant point to be made by it. Other than having an interesting setup for a movie, the movie doesn't seem to have a point to it. The odder thing is that the movie acts like it has a point and it is a heavy and deep one.

Through some scenes, the movie seems to veer towards the old cliché of the neurotic romance movies.

The good old "I don't know what I want!" line.
Toss in a "I'm not strong for a real relationship!" line for good measure.

It is the line most common in arrested development/hipster movies. I Think the protagonist actually on, at least, a subconscious level know what he wants considering the type of OS he is dating. She is basically the same type of person as his soon to be ex-wife even though the OS is artificial.

To be frank, the OS is a better version of his wife in many ways.

The protagonist, Theodore, wants a mate who will satisfy all his neurotic needs and be satisfied with what he gives her. He is just not willing to accept that on a conscious level. You can see this from his relationship with his old friend played by Amy Adams. He says that they dated for like a minute a long time ago and it didn't work out.

Well, of course it didn't! She basically you in a lot of ways.
Two needy emotional vampires cannot feed off each other.

Thus, the OS is the perfect mate for our protagonist. Or is she?

Samantha, the OS
Who or what is Samantha, the OS?
Well, she is a voice in an earpiece voiced by “Scarlett Johansson ".

She is very smart and intelligent.
She is energetic and quirky without being irritating or tiresome.
She is artistic but is not selfish.

What is Samantha? She is the ultimate pixie dream girl who is superior to you in all ways but seemingly without reason worships you. You, as a hipster, do not even have to worry about not being able to satisfy her physically since she does not have a body to disappoint.

You always have your right hand if you need something!

Now we get into rather spoiler territory. But I do not think it much matters for this type of movie.

It's me, not you...
The protagonist's ex-wife basically did the whole “I love you but I've changed. I need more" line when she divorced him. While this messed him up, he didn't really change.

Then he got Samantha!

Samantha satisfied his need for attention and fed his hunger for affection. This does not change our protagonist. Theodore just shifted gears from his miserable mode to his happy mode.

What do you think the ultimate conclusion to this relationship will be?

The main problem with the movie is that it mistakes what it is. It sells itself as a deep look into relationships in a new technology world. The movie tries to infer that the artificial nature of the relationship is the big factor. It seems to say that, "if the relationship is real enough, isn't the real?"

However, this is just a gimmick. 

The movie is not deep. It just is moody and neurotic. The two do not equate to being deep. This movie is basically a typical but well-acted and well-crafted hipster/pixie dream girl movie.

Again, what do you think the ultimate conclusion to this relationship will be?

The OS basically does what our protagonist's ex-wife did and gives him the same cliché "I love you but I've out grown you" line and leaves. I said before that the OS and the ex-wife were similar. 

Among all the extraordinary things Samantha does, getting fed up and leaving makes her more real than anything else.

The Ending
So, you get dumped by both your wife and your OS. What is a neurotic hipster to do?

From what we see on screen, there is only one real way this story can go.

Our protagonist is basically the same person as when the movie started. But now he has been dumped in the same manner again. So, he writes a “be happy and I’m sorry” letter to his ex-wife. Then, he goes up to the top of his ridiculous apartment/mall hybrid skyscraper which is just a roof and not an observation deck.

There is only one real way this story can go on top of a skyscraper.



I'll just say that it went somewhere unexpected and was not satisfying.

Closing thoughts
This movie misses its mark. It tries to be about the blurring divide between real and artificial but does not really get that the protagonist’s life was already fake before he dated the OS. I think that this is the reason why the relationship between a person and an OS worked to the degree it did.

Our protagonist earns a living by dictating fake hand written personal letters. Other people purchase his services to write personal letters pretending to be them. But they do not even tell him what to write. He just makes it as he goes along.

Considering that he has long term clients, not only is he a fake, the client’s relationships are also all fake. Our protagonist does not even write the hand written letters. He dictates it and the computer prints it out.

This goes over the movies messaging.

“her” is not about the blurring divide between real and artificial. It is just a story about a hipster and his ultimate “pixie dream girl” and nothing else. The sad thing about “her” is that it has a lot of these elements that are far better than the actual movie itself floating around in it.

The acting is great!
Some of the philosophical questions are interesting
The cinematography is great!
The set design is great!
Do not care for the costume design though…
And “Scarlett Johansson " does some great voice over work for “Samantha”, the OS.

In order to like this movie, you have to be within the niche audience that likes hipster/pixie dream girl movies. It would be better if you are a hipster yourself.

Not sure about what you would think if you are a pixie dream girl though…

If not, the other interesting elements are not strong enough to support a movie in which you do not like the core story.

So, this would be difficult to recommend for mainstream audiences.

Score: B+ for the hipster audience

Also a very good article about pixie dream girls

I was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl


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