As we savor the holiday season — and some of the best films of the year fill theaters — the Reel Dad checks out the nutritional value of the offerings. This week’s pick is the romantic comedy, Her, from director Spike Jonze.

We fill our lives with digital voices that guide many steps we take, from the turns we make driving a car to the worlds we access on a smart phone. Thanks to advances in technology, mechanized beings reach many dimensions of our daily routines. In our family car, a voice we call “Tricia” tells us where to go, how to avoid traffic, and when we will arrive. And if we dare to make wrong turns, or challenge her directions, she never hesitates to scold.

The moviemaker Spike Jonze explores the emotional potential of computerized connections in Her, a magical film that works better than its premise may sound. In a Los Angeles of a not-so-distant future, Joaquin Phoenix plays a man with a job that only technology could create: He writes personalized messages for people too busy to develop their own words. After hours, this man who can articulate anything for anybody finds himself less successful relating to real people through his own words and actions. Through the character’s programmed life, Jonze explores a world at personal and digital turning points where people try to reconcile the benefits and risks of high-tech possibilities.

When this man finds himself attracted to the caring, congenial voice of his new computer operating system, Jonze dares to consider if it’s conceivable for a real person to develop an authentic relationship with a programmed presence. By treating such an exaggerated situation with loving care, the writer/director makes us believe in the possibilities of such an arrangement. Logically we know that the love of man and machine might carry challenges. But Jonze develops the emotional layers so carefully that he makes us wonder if the unbelievable could actually happen. A generation ago we could not have imagined a voice would help us navigate a busy road or personally inform us of a day’s appointments. Without passing judgment on how people use technology, Jonze prompts us to reexamine how we rely on our digital toys.

Phoenix, in a portrayal of warmth and humor, reaches beyond what we usually see in his work to offer an appealing vulnerability that perfectly matches the tone of the film. Rarely do we experience this actor looking so comfortable on screen, so convincing in the routine. Significantly contributing to the authenticity of the piece is Scarlett Johansson’s vocal portrayal of the voice of his digital affection. Working only with the tone and inflection of speech, without appearing on screen, Johansson hits an ideal balance of humanity and predictability; we never forget she is a creation as we hope she is much more. Amy Adams, in another strong performance, returns Phoenix to the realities of the world in her portrayal of a woman who experiences too much reality.

With each generation, people adjust to changes in the world as we embrace new opportunities. There’s no limit, perhaps, to what conveniences the digital world can deliver. But should some matters of the heart be as easy to order online as a book or a movie? Or do the natural steps that relationships require, filled with human give and take, reach beyond what a computer can handle? With Her, Spike Jonze asks us to imagine and enjoy. What a treat.

Film Nutritional Value
* Content: High. The unusual relationship between a man and his computer operating systems, and its range of realities, is thoughtfully explored in a film that successfully reaches beyond its concept.
* Entertainment: High. Even with its unusual look at the world, Her is so filled with care for its compelling characters that we are captivated from the opening moments.
* Message: High. No matter our age or situation, the insight of Her can help us understand what changes in our world can mean to our lives.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk with older children about the realities of relationships is worthwhile as we all consider how computers impact lives.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. While this is not a film for the entire family, you and your older teenagers will have a lot to consider as you absorb what these people try to confront.

(Her is rated R for language, sexual content and brief nudity. The film runs 126 minutes.)
5 Popcorn Buckets