Thursday, February 13, 2014
Spike Jonze’s feature directorial choices can safely be called strange. From BEING JOHN MALKOVICH’s comedic tale of body possession to ADAPTATION.’s self-referential solipsism to the surreal yet tactile WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, Jonze has displayed a singular vision both insular and oddly familiar. So it should come as no surprise that his latest directorial effort (which he also wrote) is a whimsical science fiction romance about a man who falls in love with his computer operating system. In an unspecified future Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) works at a company that composes personal letters for people unable or too busy to do so themselves. In his spare time he wanders a futuristic Los Angeles plugged into his smartphone or plays holographic video games in his living room or procrastinates in signing divorce papers sent by estranged wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). Despite living in this bustling city, Theodore has little human contact. Married friend Amy (Amy Adams) encourages him to go on a blind date, but it ends disastrously due to a reluctance to engage emotionally or otherwise. When a revolutionary new operating system becomes available which adapts to a customer’s desires, from voice to personality, Theodore snaps it up. Thus Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) becomes a part of his life. At first she functions like an electronic administrator, prioritizing correspondence and organizing files, but her dulcet voice and demeanor soon entice Theodore into personal exchanges and confidences, leading to friendship and romantic love. Jonze makes this unlikely conceit work with clever writing and his sensitive direction of a winsome Phoenix and an unseen yet tangible Johansson. Despite the film’s speculative elements, however, our wire-crossed lovers face mostly familiar relationship obstacles. That changes when Samantha hires a surrogate to facilitate physical intercourse, which takes the film briefly into uncharted territory. But Jonze bails out before exploring that dynamic. And while he deserves credit for asking audacious questions, Jonze and the film never quite follow through.