After a handful of Golden Globe nominations and being named the best film of the year by the National Board of Review, Spike Jonze's "Her" is a legitimate award season contender. But unlike his fellow hopefuls, that's all the more impressive because Jonze isn't exactly known for making traditional Oscar-bait or even "normal" movies, for that matter ("Malkovich Malkovich," anyone?). And "Her" is no exception, set in a near-future of high-waisted pants and remarkably complex AI, and about Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely, recently divorced writer who falls in love with his new operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
But that high-concept premise is probably the least weird thing about the offbeat filmmaker's surprisingly touching techno-love story. Here's a rundown of what other strangeness you can expect from Jonze's unconventional science-fiction romance.
10. Theodore falls in love with an operating system named Samantha
Yes, Theodore and Samantha's meet-cute happens right after the installation process. But after some initial hesitance, Theo goes from testing the highly-adaptable OS to falling for her. It's odd, granted, but with people increasingly tethered to their devices, and the fact that this is a "woman" who was literally made for him (after a few diagnostic questions) -- not to mention that Apple had to program Siri with canned answers to user come-ons and marriage proposals -- the central love story is actually the least odd part of "Her." Samantha writes songs, draws dirty pictures, and sounds like Scarlett Johansson. Who wouldn't fall in love with that?
9. He's not the only one
Nobody else finds their relationship all that strange either, Theodore's ex-wife (played by Rooney Mara) notwithstanding. Instead, in Jonze's futuristic LA, relationships with OS are relatively socially acceptable. Theodore's friend Amy (Amy Adams) gossips about a co-worker who keeps getting shut down by his OS, one who's having an affair with someone else's, and admits to developing a strong friendship with her own.
8. Theodore and Samantha go on double dates
It's more logistically difficult, yes, but otherwise they've got a fairly normal relationship. By putting her camera in his shirt pocket, Theodore's able to take Samantha to the beach, on day trips and double dates. And she's the life of the party, charming his co-workers, friends, and (most adorably) his goddaughter.
7. Future fashion sense
Jonze supposedly went for a 1920s style with his movie's costuming, reasoning that fashion is cyclical, which means lots of high-waisted wool pants and strange collars. He also reportedly used Jamba Juice as an aesthetic inspiration for his sets. No, really.
6. Theodore's job is to write other peoples' letters
He's no freelance puppeteer, but Theodore works for BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, a service where paid professionals compose highly personalized letters -- written in the client's handwriting, naturally. His clients range from 12 years old to 80, most of whom he's spent years writing for.
5. It redefines "phone sex"
After a few great early-movie voice cameos from Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (future or not, "Coming to America" references never get outdated), phone sex takes on new meaning when Theodore and Samantha eventually "consummate" their relationship, complete with an awkward morning-after conversation. That said, their sex life gets even more unconventional, once Samantha suggests spicing things up with a surrogate.
4. It features the most foul-mouthed video game character ever programmed
Video games also clearly fascinate Jonze, and Theodore plays one where the gameplay basically involves a Sisyphean crawl up a hill and aimlessly wandering through a cave that Samantha helps guide him out of (metaphors!). But the best/weirdest part is the impressively vulgar child-like creature that Theodore's avatar encounters (and was voiced by Jonze himself). Also deserving mention is the game that Adam's character is designing, called "Perfect Mom," where you collect "mom points" for getting to school first and otherwise not failing your children.
3. Samantha likes to watch Theodore sleep
As a highly-intelligent super-computer, Samantha spends most of her downtime evolving, as well as studying Theodore (when she's not communicating "post-verbally" with the other OSes). In real life, it'd be creepy. In Samantha though, it's somehow kind of sweet. It's also most likely part of a larger theme that Jonze edited down, since Amy is similarly working on a documentary that's seemingly just footage of people sleeping.
2. Scarlett Johansson's got a grassroots Oscar campaign -- and it's well-deserved
Let's be clear here: Johansson doesn't really have a shot, especially not after a snub by the Golden Globes, and since the Academy isn't exactly known for making left-field choices. She does deserve at least a nomination for her performance though, even if it's entirely voice-based. That's because it's crucial to "Her" that the audience falls in love with Samantha as much as Theodore does, and unlike Phoenix, Johansson has to do all that heavy-lifting without the aid of a body, or an Oscar-worthy moustache.
1. It's the most genuinely touching love story of the year
Despite a long career filled with music videos and short films, "Her" is only the fourth feature that Jonze has directed, and the first he wrote himself. Still, for all its strangeness, you don't just care about Samantha and Theodore's relationship, you root for them, as Jonze tugs all the right heartstrings. The film's got a bizarre premise, sure, but it's also absurdly funny, gorgeously filmed, and remarkably affecting, making "Her" not just a weird little movie, but also a great one. This'll stick with you for hours, if not days, if not forever.