Saturday, September 25, 2021

I'm Your Man has flashes of thoughtful humanity


Alma (Maren Eggert) is a woman whose life is quite busy between her teaching exploits and, most importantly, a research project she and her team have been working on for ages. However, her superior has bestowed her with a new assignment: try a robotic romantic partner. It's a technological leap forward that could change mankind forever and Alma's been tasked to see if these mechanical creations can work as life partners. Thus, Tom (Dan Stevens), supposedly created to be Alma's ideal soulmate, is entrusted to Alma, who has no time for affection or strong human connections. Over their time together, Alma will introduce Tom to a world that's far more complex than anything in a manual while Tom will begin to uncover what really makes this woman tick.

I'm Your Man is the latest in a long line of movies about human-like automatons struggling to grasp the concept of love while providing an opportunity for moviegoers to ruminate on what the concept means. Everything from Bicentennial Man to (sort of) Her has probed this topic, so director Maria Schrader (who also wrote the screenplay with Jan Schomburg) isn't uncovering untrodden territory with this film. Initially, it seems like this German feature may not have enough unique elements to stand on, with Tom's personality particularly coming off as especially derivative of other movie robots who are helpful but also too cold in their perfection.

Dan Stevens certainly commits to the role and does especially solid work conveying with his eyes a sense of warmth you'd want from a romantic partner but also this eerie detached quality that reminds you you're looking at a robot. However, his first scenes, like a comedic detour where he pretends to be human in a coffee shop, use that performance from Stevens for familiar fish-out-of-water ends. Alma's starting point of being more irritated than amazed by this robotic marvel is also too familiar for its own good, with all the derivative storytelling details getting accompanied by Schrader's competent but not especially distinctive direction.

Luckily, I'm Your Man definitely improves as it goes alone, particularly regarding its central message. Without delving into spoiler territory, the movie cleverly uses Alma's distrust for the prospect of a robotic partner as a segway into her deeper emotional problems of refusing to get too attached to people lest she lose them or they let her down. This is where I'm Your Man is finally able to stand apart from other movies about humans and robots contemplating what love and emotional connections are. Committing to investigating this part of Alma, complete with a commendably messy performance from Maren Eggert, informs the very best sequences of I'm Your Man.

It's also interesting to see that I'm Your Man begins to uncover an intriguingly glib view of humanity that was hiding in plain sight from the very beginning. Though its quasi-futuristic world appears to be functioning like normal (it's not at all dystopian), Schrader works in both subtle and pronounced depictions of how humans often act less human than machines like Tom. It's not a totally original concept to be sure, but the gradual reveal that this is a critical part of I'm Your Man's story is well-done and quietly provides an additional melancholy layer to why Alma would feel so alone. How can you hope to connect with others when people are preoccupied with their own selfish desires?

That extra dark note adds a nice distinctive layer to the bond that eventually forms between Alma and Tom. A robotic pal like Tom would seem extra appealing in a world as subtly daunting as this one. Whenever I'm Your Man commits to these kinds of distinctive details, not to mention fixates on Eggert's terrific lead performance, it's at its best. Even the weaker and more familiar parts, though, usually involve a suave Dan Stevens delivering charming lines of dialogue in German, so that's not nothing. I'm Your Man isn't the next favorite sci-fi romance indie film you'll fall madly in love with, but it's certainly enough charms to make for an amiable date night.

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