I’m Your Man, 2021.
Directed by Maria Schrader.
Starring Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller, Hans Löw, Annika Meier, Jürgen Tarrach, Wolfgang Hübsch, Falilou Seck, and Henriette Richter-Röhl.
In order to obtain research funds for her studies, a scientist accepts an offer to participate in an extraordinary experiment: for three weeks, she is to live with a humanoid robot, created to make her happy.
As life partners, human beings are conditioned (the good ones, at least) to treat each other with compassion, empathy, understanding, and fulfillment. One of the key takeaways from Maria Schrader’s I’m Your Man is that, no matter how proficient someone is at meeting those desires, one person can’t be able to fully, 100% satisfy a partner. And that’s not a bad thing (one could argue it’s why polyamorous relationships are an option, but that’s a discussion for another movie and time); it’s just the reality of life. That may no longer be the case.
In Germany, Alma (a brilliantly layered Maren Eggert) has opted to be part of a study testing out dating a robot. Specifically designed to be the man of her dreams, the robot here is Tom (with incredible work from Dan Stevens conveying that kind of typical artificiality with acting personality and emotion whether it be from lifeless eyes wandering around the room or his ever-adapting behavior to fit the mold for his predetermined human match). They are instructed to meet at a fancy ballroom, wining and dining while getting accustomed to one another, creating a bond. Initially, Alma makes a light conversation about one of her favorite books before asking stranger questions, such as what’s on a specific page, eventually cutting deeper, asking about the letters on one of those pages. Following that, she gives Tom some mathematical equations impossible for any average person to solve without scratch paper. She even inquires as to the meaning of life, which Tom can firmly and confidently answer.
It’s clear that she does not take this seriously. She is only beta testing for the manufacturer to acquire funds for her research on cuneiform and investigating how far back poetry exists. Rather cruelly, Alma brings Tom home and instructs him to sleep in a room that resembles a closet (it may have been one). In her eyes, no matter how much Tom knows about her hobbies, he alters his programming on the fly eliminating phrases or actions she doesn’t care for, or presents himself as the perfect romantic match emotionally as a higher sentient being whose primary function is to assess and adapt what will make her most happy in life, he is always going to be a machine. Such dismissiveness does not faze Tom, even if he helplessly gets stuck in the rain waiting outside for Alma to finish work (she doesn’t let him in the building). Instead, he’s patient and calm, trucking along, continuing to get to know her and make her happy.
It’s not an insult, but Alma is also single for a reason. Not only is she dedicated to her work above all else, but it’s revealed that she was once partnered with another man before tragedy struck (amusingly, he and Tom turn out to dress the same way), so she might not be ready to be with another person. Additionally, she also comes across as slightly high maintenance, uncertain of what she wants, lonely yet afraid to fall in love, and values one of the only things a robot probably can’t provide; spontaneity and friction (the latter of which conflicts with his hardwiring of obedience).
There’s really no surprise where the trajectory of I’m Your Man‘s plot goes, but it hits all of those notes with clever situational humor (the script was penned by Jan Schomburg and Maria Schrader, adapting the short story from Emma Braslavsky) and several thought-provoking dialogue exchanges regarding the inner workings of relationships. As everyone else sees that Tom, who they assume is human, makes for such an incredible other half (he also can make up stories on his feet during a conversation, developing a swoon-worthy fictional past between them), Alma opens up to the possibility that this could be love. In a subplot that could have used a little more fleshing out (and getting rid of a moment in the third act doesn’t feel natural), Alma also doesn’t want to end up alone like her dementia-ridden father that she and her sister take turns providing care. Alma’s sister also has a child and judging from the bond they share; offspring becomes another vital pillar to happily ever after that Tom will likely never be able to provide.
The past also complicates and gets blurry based on an old photograph, but the details are better left discovered. What matters is that Alma, against every impulse and better judgment, does indeed fall for the machine. Whether that’s what’s best for her or society at large is something she will have to work out in her mind. Maren Eggert and Dan Stevens fill this dynamic with laughs and tender connection, game for every one of Maria Schrader’s terrific ideas. Again, minor subplots and supporting characters feel like they should play a larger part in the grand scheme of things, but the focus is sharp and probing where it matters. I’m Your Man is an intelligent and meaningful assessment of what relationships should, shouldn’t, could, and can’t be. Wisely, it doesn’t try to answer the challenging questions opposes, choosing to focus on the characters and heartfelt tale of love and happiness at hand. It’s a rich and potent sci-fi romance that is sure to resonate.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com