The thing about the romantic mystery-date dream-man is he’s often a tired and boring stiff bearing flowers and cliché poetry. So when designing the perfect man, why lean into the propensity to shower a woman in petals and compliments about her eyes? That’s certainly a question Alma (Maren Eggert) will ponder when test driving Tom (Dan Stevens), an AI robot meant to be her perfect match.
Alma is the portrait of a modern woman. She’s single, having just endured a painful breakup; she prioritizes her work; and she takes refuge in her messy apartment. To get her hands on some much-needed funding, she agrees to test and evaluate a robot-man to write a recommendation on robots’ rights among humanity. Strapped to the dashing and quixotic Tom, Alma tries to go about her life, trapping him in closets and avoiding his passes. But Tom’s AI is … intelligent, and he learns to love her the way she wants to be loved. And as Alma’s cynicism wanes in the face of a charming humanoid, maybe she can learn to love him back.
Director Maria Schrader (who shares writing credits with Jan Schokmberg and original short story writer Emma Braslavsky), sets the tale in a not-so-distant future, or perhaps a warped version of our own time. There are no flashy science fiction additions to the world, aside from some hologram bar patrons where Alma’s introduced to Tom. First impressions are important, the keeper of the bots (Sandra Hüller) tells her, so they set an intricate stage for the occasion. Grounding the story in a familiar reality allows for Alma to be even more relatable. She’s a common version of womanhood, not easily enamored by flaccid romance and robotic sexual organs (not even if they’re piloted by a man who looks like Dan Stevens).
While the tale seems to explore the idea of romance between a human and AI, similar to films like Her, it’s much more a philosophical exploration of the limits of AI as against our ability to humanize it. Alma’s research is into early poetry in language. She studies uses of metaphor and wordplay in ancient languages, which poses a challenge for the robot who can only think to compare her eyes to bodies of water. But as Alma continues to connect with Tom, he learns about her. And like the Terminator knowing why John Connor cries, but knowing it’s something he can never do, Tom learns to understand the poetic way Alma speaks but is unable to reciprocate.
With the guidance of Schrader’s camera, Eggert and Stevens use subtle actions to denote their blossoming relationship and chemistry. One morning after hoping to have Tom stowed away, she finds he’s let in her ex and served him some coffee. As Alma navigates the awkwardness of explaining the handsome man in a bathrobe, her ex shares anecdotes of his new partner and their home. A somewhat jovial Alma catches Tom’s embracing gaze as we might when smiling at a lifelong partner when cryptically joking at another’s expense. It’s their subtle work and undeniable chemistry that keeps this iron heart of this robot movie beating. Stevens, no stranger to layering a comedic performance atop that of a robotic character, like he did in The Guest, is hilarious here in his portrayal of a loveable machine. His attempts to “act natural” are grin-inducing, and it’s his delivery of it that leaves the in-world characters and audience charmed.
I hadn’t expected to describe a story of love and robots this way, but I’m Your Man is a quirky and lovable twist on the romantic comedy. It’s a charming and vivacious tale of modern love and romance that posits the limitations of perfection. In a world where electronic devices and their dominating operating systems know more about us than anyone, I’m Your Man asks if that entity can create enough poetry to enamor you, and if so, should they be allowed to vote?
I’m Your Man screened at the 2021 TIFF Film Festival. It opens in theaters September 24, 2021.
Header Image Source: Christine Fenzl/Berl