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'Her' review: Siri-ously wonderful

**** (out of four)

At BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) pours out someone else's heart, using submitted photos and e-communication to craft anniversary cards and more. He speaks to the computer, the program writes in lovely handwriting and a decades-long love is sustained and honored by a third party.

Lack of interpersonal connection in the Internet and smartphone age has become an onscreen cliche (and the driving force behind this year's "Disconnect" with Jason Bateman), but writer-director Spike Jonze's "Her" is an original voice among the noise. It's one of the funniest and saddest movies of the year. That twofer doesn't happen often.

Unable to sign papers finalizing his divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore lives inside memories of their playfulness and closeness -- recollections that can't help but be interrupted by shards of arguments and regret. Then he buys a new, artificially intelligent operating system named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), and everything changes. Samantha is like Siri 10.0: She organizes and assists. She edits Theodore's letters. She also engages and grows. Yet she's not programmed to abide like a robot; when Samantha and Theodore bond, it's like the closeness of a relationship over the phone. When they eventually take things to a sexual place, her lack of a body doesn't change the fact that their intimacy is as different as night and day compared to his previous experience paying for phone sex. Samantha has no physical presence, but she is Theodore's girlfriend, capable of jealousy ... and being carried around in a pocket.

Clearly, "Her" requires an acceptance of Jonze's vision (no, he doesn't address the legality of marrying your OS) that we've become so technologically dependent, this product isn't out of the question eventually, and some people would be thrilled for non-prurient reasons. The entire cast, including Amy Adams as Theodore's pal Amy and Olivia Wilde as a woman whose blind date with Theodore goes great until suddenly it doesn't, connects beautifully. They all exist in the same universe of distracted dissatisfaction. Jonze presents video games in particular with a hilarious skepticism; Amy works on a game in which the player attempts to be the perfect mother, modeling behavior after what technology, as written by a person, dictates is proper.

Other than juicy celeb images and convenience, what do we get and we do we search for in our gadgets? What's missing in our offline relationships? In the gorgeous, strange world of "Her," the act of people living and feeling together practically comes into competition with a revolution for which no one was prepared.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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