Her ★★★½

Perhaps the most striking thing about Spike Jonze’s “Her”, a tender Vonnegut-esque fable about a man who falls in love with his phone’s sentient operating system, is how seldom the film feels like a high-concept exercise. It’s to the immense credit of Jonze’s script, a sensitive and genuinely curious look at programmed living and the follies of possessive love that unfolds like “When Harry Met Skynet”, that the film’s central relationship ultimately feels like a somewhat typical portrait of modern romance. The story evinces such empathy for its characters and respect for their emotions that the film never threatens to become a gawking sideshow that makes a spectacle of redeeming its hero (I’m looking at you, “Lars and the Real Girl”), and the movie’s premise seldom overwhelms its plot. Of course, in this day and age it would be harder to imagine someone who isn’t in love with their cell phone.

“Her” is dangerously precious from the moment it begins, the film introducing us to a mumbly, mustached man named Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) whose job is to “handwritten” letters for other people. The gig doesn’t really make all that much sense, but it nevertheless anticipates a near-future in which humans have become so accustomed to the idea of artificial emotion that the notion of artificial intelligence generating human emotion doesn’t seem like much of a stretch (the film is set in 2030 or thereabouts, though the actual year is never provided). Theodore is reserved and obviously wounded – the impending divorce from his wife (Rooney Mara in an effective cameo) has damaged him to the point that he’s almost a Charlie Kaufman character, and in the rare moments that he allows himself to laugh it’s as though he’s indulging in an inherent vice.

REVIEW CONTINUES ON FILM.COM: www.film.com/movies/spike-jonze-her-review