By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin December 18, 2013 at 11:59PM
is so smart, and his new film so ingenious and relevant, that I wish I liked it
more. I was completely captivated at first but after a while I became
impatient. I knew where the picture was headed, yet the filmmaker lingered on
every story point, long after emptying his bag of tricks. I admire and respect her but I’m sorry to say I grew tired of
The setting is the somewhat-creepy near future (as envisioned by talented production designer K.K. Barrett). Joaquin Phoenix delivers a great, tour-de-force performance as a closed-off guy who works for a company that composes personal letters for people who haven’t the time or ability to do it themselves. They want to convey the illusion of caring and he has a way with words, although it doesn’t extend to his real-life relationships.
Phoenix leads an empty existence, playing holographic video games in his soulless, ultramodern apartment. His love life is barren since the dissolution of his marriage (to Rooney Mara). Even the spark of friendship he maintains with Amy Adams is just barely alive, given her own marital problems and overall ennui.
Into this world comes a new computer operating system personified by a female voice and bearing the name Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). She is so intuitive and natural-sounding that she seems like a real person, and before long Phoenix is treating her as one: she becomes, for all intents, and purposes, his new girlfriend.
You may well ask, “And then what happens?” The answer is, “Nothing much,” or perhaps, “Nothing you can’t see coming a mile away.” For some people (including many critics) this is not a hindrance. The evocative futuristic setting and the compelling premise, along with strong performances, are enough to win them over. I felt that way for the first hour of her until Spike Jonze dropped the ball. It’s enormously frustrating to like a movie so much and then feel shortchanged at the end.