Spike Jonze's film won an Academy award for Best Original Screenplay, and while any work by the visionary Jonze is worthwhile and garners attention due to his huge back catalogue of music videos and film, this attempt at a romantic film for the digital age is at times both affirming and frustrating.
In a near-future but too familiar to be science fiction, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a writer of lonely hearts letters for family members unable to connect with their loved ones, so they ask him to write letters to sons at college, wives on the anniversary of their wedding days from tongued tied spouses.
Theodore is going through a protracted divorce from Katherine (Rooney Mara) and is becoming somewhat insular and anti-social, so he purchases an operating system that will allow him to engage again with the outside world. He chooses a female voice, she calls herself Samantha and they slowly start a relationship together culminating in a sexual one, Samantha is voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
The film is at pains to point out that the relationship between the human being and artificial intelligence is genuine and acceptable in this near future. Theodore's neighbour and friend Amy (Amy Adams) also has a relationship with her operating system and mentions others doing likewise.
Theodore has an ear piece where he can talk to Samantha, and this cuts him off from the rest of the world. He talks only to her, and although he is perceptive and observant of those around him, he does not interact face to face with them. His one attempt at a date with another female ends abruptly when she fears he will not call her back as it is only a one-night stand, something Theodore admits to.
The quest for love and companionship has fallen on deaf ears because people are too interested in their devices carrying all the information and knowledge they require, why interact with people who may well bore you - people are both alienated yet involved.
Jonze's screenplay is a nicely meditative piece on how relationships disintegrate over time due to the demands individuals place on each other in the hope for the ideal mate, and it is surprising that this viewer found the fleeting flashbacks of the maturation and eventual end of Theodore and Katherine's relationship at times more interesting that the story of this lonely individual; it may well have made for a more interesting film.
Jonze is helped though by some beautiful cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema that makes this futuristic Los Angeles look like the most beautiful city in the world especially the final shot overlooking the cityscape with all the lights on. When it is quiet and no phones or devices are being used.
While Jonze's oeuvre can correctly be identifiable as offbeat, you hoped this film would be more conventional in its attempts at tackling romance yet Jonze's kookiness remains. This is a shame as Phoenix is exceptional as Theodore appearing in practically every shot holding our attention and gains our sympathy when he could easily have slipped into a caricature of an unloveable creep.