Joaquin Phoenix Falls for Scarlett Johansson in ‘Her’ (But It’s Not What You Think)

Movie Talk
Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson
Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson

Spike Jonze returns to feature filmmaking after a four-year hiatus with "Her," a rather unorthodox romantic drama that brings together two of Hollywood's hottest stars, Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson.

"Her" isn't your typical boy-meets-girl story, though. In fact, "girl" might be a completely incorrect term altogether, as Jonze takes the term "untraditional romance" to a whole new level (and a whole new technology, at that).

Watch 'Her' Trailer:

"Her" refers to Scarlett Johansson's character Samantha, and the quotes around the title are key in that she's not so much a "her" as she is a highly advanced computer operating system, one who ends up changing the life of Theodore Twombly (Phoenix), a sad sack struggling with loneliness and heartbreak after splitting from his longtime sweetheart (Rooney Mara). Samantha is kind, funny, sensitive and sexy ... all the things a fella could want in a lady. Except, you know, she's not a lady.

Back in the '80s, such a scenario would be pure science fiction, and laughably so (remember "Electric Dreams"?). But in 2013, where we regularly talk to Siri on our iPhones and do most of our social interaction on our computers ... well, it's not so far-fetched, is it?

Jonze, whose last feature was the criminally underappreciated "Where the Wild Things Are," has obviously been inspired by his frequent collaborator Charlie Kaufman with this whimsical story, though "Her" looks to have a layer of sweetness that's missing from caustic, melancholy Kaufman tales like "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation." Jonze has taken a few visual cues from his Kaufman adventures as well — the frizzy hairstyle of Amy Adams (who's slowly but surely becoming overexposed) looks a lot like Cameron Diaz's in "Malkovich."

It's also interesting to see Scarlett Johansson and Spike Jonze working together, as they've had something of a behind-the-scenes connection for over ten years now. Johansson starred in "Lost in Translation" (2003), which was directed by Jonze's ex-wife Sofia Coppola ... and many have speculated that Giovanni Ribisi's well-meaning if distracted husband character in the film was based on Jonze himself. No doubt Jonze and Johansson shared some stories in-between takes on the "Her" set.

Meanwhile, Joaquin Phoenix seems to be having a career resurgence following that "I'm Still Here" nonsense with playing eccentric, soulful characters in both this and Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master." Phoenix has also gotten to play the bad guy recently with his villainous turn in James Gray's "The Immigrant," which screened at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, and will soon reunite with Anderson to play a weirdo pothead detective in PTA's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's "Inherent Vice."

Ultimately, it's good to have Spike Jonze back behind the camera, telling his strange and wonderful stories. "Her" hits theaters on November 20.