But there is a hurdle to be faced while watching the film as its central premise is somewhat… strange. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Pheonix) is a lonely divorcee who installs a new operating system, named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), that replicates human behavior. Samantha and Theodore soon develop a relationship and begin dating. This is the kind of eccentric film that easily invites cynicism or cruel jokes at the expense of the strange relationship between a person and a computer. But the beauty of Her is that the film doesn’t find Theodore’s love all that strange or abnormal. In the same vein as Lars and the Real Girl, Her presents a rather uplifting and optimistic view that in order to connect with other people we need to be happy with ourselves first.
And the reason why this pairing works so well is that it’s grounded by the performances of its two leads. Joaquin Pheonix’s is absolutely phenomenal as Theodore, and Her represents another step for his comeback (after the strange and alienating I’m Still Here). What’s great about his performance in Her is that there’s something recognizable in it: We’ve all been at that stage in life where we’ve felt the most lonely, desperate for anyone to lean on. Joaquin’s Theodore is no sad-sack or comically exaggerated nerd, which makes it much easier to empathize with him. But it’s Scarlett Johansson’s role that everyone seems to be talking about–and for good reason. Johannson puts so much heart into what is essentially a voice-over role that she creates a fantastic character that we don’t even see.
While the film does contain sci-fi elements, it’s all very understated. Unlike tripe like Star Trek Into Darkness, where the entire focus seems to be on the hundreds of millions of dollars on full display, there’s very much an element of real in the world of Her.