Her

Her is the story of a lonely Los Angeles man (Joaquin Phoenix) who purchases a Siri-like operating system simply called "OS1" that is being marketed as the first true example of artificial intelligence. Once he installs OS1 and hears a perky female voice (Scarlett Johansson) chattering back at him, and making him feel interesting, funny, and desirable, he's hooked.

Her takes place sometime in the future – the film shrewdly does not give us a date, but one can infer that it's meant to be about 30 or 40 years from now. I'm always keen on seeing how artists envision the near future, and it's refreshing when something like Her comes around that does not depict the typical post-apocalyptic dystopia that we've all grown tired of, but instead tries hard to imagine a plausible world to come: this film's mid-21st-century Los Angeles seems to take its cue from contemporary architectural renderings of next year's buildings, all clean and bright and surrounded by an attractive, multiethnic populace who enjoys getting around on foot or via public transit.

Yet even this peaceful-seeming future seems somehow frightening, or at least depressing. People look happy, but they're isolated and socially awkward. If science fiction is a reflection on current issues – and make no mistake, Her is absolutely a sci fi movie – then Jonze (who also wrote the screenplay) speculates that our obsession with technology will inevitably lead to an emotional dependence on it; the human need for connection will remain within us, but we will be relieved when we no longer need to seek that connection in other people. (Notably, social networks are completely dead and gone in Her's timeframe.)

Her isn't for everyone: there isn't a particularly strong narrative drive, and Jonze's dialogue is filled with self-analysis. It's clear that, after Where the Wild Things Are and this film, the director likes having his characters talk about their feelings – a lot. The Los Angeles of Her is a wimpy, decidedly unmanly world, and whether Jonze fears this or embraces it is hard to tell.

Outside of the writer/director and his excellent cast – Phoenix, Johansson, and Amy Adams are all wonderful – Her's real MVP is Jonze's go-to production designer K.K. Barrett. Although the world of Her is minimalistic – a person doesn't require much besides a smartphone, a desktop computer, and an earpiece – this gleaming Los Angeles peeks at the audience from every corner. Yet instead of being distracting, it provides a counterbalance to the intimate human drama, constantly giving our eyes and brains something to feast on. Surely those of us living in LA will get more out of Barrett's and Jonze's tantalizing version of what's in store (finally, a subway to the beach!) than those unfamiliar with this city, but the visual design is nevertheless one of the stars of the film.