Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: I’m Your Man (Ich bin dein Mensch)

Written by Patrick Hao

72/100

Since Her was released in 2013, a commentary on the loneliness of humans with the dawn of AI technology, filmic depictions of technology have been especially dour. The Black Mirror-ification of media harping on the cynicism of what technology is doing to humans – a perfectly valid response to our disconnected world. Maria Schrader’s new film, I’m Your Man refreshingly does not take a cynical stance on technology, rather explores the void that humans are trying to fill.

Schrader, along with co-writer and collaborator on the excellent film Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe, Jan Schomburg, takes a decidedly human approach on AI. The focus is on Alma (Maren Egert), a scientist at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum who is recruited to beta test a new humanoid Tom (Dan Stevens) who is programmed to be Alma’s ideal mate based on a dating profile she filled out. Alma’s loneliness is derived from her neurosis and work-first attitude. Her analytical mind makes her skeptical of Tom, setting the ground rules to the humanoid that she will not fall for him. Dan Stevens makes it difficult, amping up his natural charm. After all, he was made for Alma. He even speaks German with a British accent because Alma likes vaguely foreign men (also a clever way to get past Steven’s natural accent.) Naturally, Alma begins falling for Tom.

The concept sounds like an odd couple high comedy, especially early on as the film plays out the antagonism between the two. All that is charming and clever. But the movie’s strength is the surprising depth into what makes human relationships valuable – which is the messiness of the situation. As the film progresses, and Tom’s AI learns about the “meaning of being human,” the relationship between Tom and Schrader gets messier. Alma is consistently aware of the machinations at play, but self-awareness cannot always overtake feelings. 

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

It is very easy to imagine this premise devolving into something much more idiotic. The fact it never does is a tribute to Schrader’s approach in grounding material in actual human cause and effects. Egert, especially, is a grounding force as Alma, never letting her neurosis feel like a defining one-note trait, but rather a piece of her whole. Stevens plays up his charm and artificiality with subtle movements like a simple pouring of a coffee pot. He makes it very believable that someone with the hardened exterior of Alma would begin to have cracks in her foundation.

The movie is not a philosophical thesis on relationships, humanity, and free will, but motions towards those topics with depth and nuance, unlike the preachiness of Black Mirror. The subversion of the third act is a sly indictment of the way single women of a certain age have been used as tropes in movies. A perfect partner cannot cure a person of their problems. A meaningful relationship cannot be a one-way street.

I’m Your Man does not focus on the existential dread of technology that so many of these tales seem to be rooted in. Rather, it is the deep humanity of the film that makes what can be dismissed as a superficial romantic dramedy feel like something special.

I’m Your Man Trailer

I’m Your Manwas screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: I’m Your Man

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

German director Maria Schrader’s I’m Your Man joins the endless ranks of movies grappling with artificial intelligence that have populated the cinematic landscape for decades, though this time it’s a romcom focusing on the connection between cuneiform expert Alma (Maren Eggert) and Tom (Dan Stevens, speaking German and executive producing), a robot perfectly designed to be Alma’s soulmate. Alma, ever practical, doesn’t actually want a perfect robot boyfriend—even if he looks like Dan Stevens—but is part of a trial group testing out the implications of this new invention. She approaches the whole thing with an air of skepticism, her mind having already been made up before she even meets Tom.

Of course, Tom was designed to be her soulmate, and even as Alma grows frustrated with his attempts to woo her—cleaning her messy apartment, throwing rose petals in a bath, making coffee—she finds herself drawn to his childlike wonder at the world, so at odds with her own cynical outlook. And how could she not fall for Tom, when he’s played with such charm and enthusiasm by Stevens? He adapts quickly to Alma’s prickliness, and even rebuffs her attempts at sex with a cheeky smile after she had previously said that relationships need friction. (In case you were wondering, he’s programmed to get an erection after a kiss, and no, he doesn’t get any physical pleasure from sex.) 

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

Schrader’s gentle romcom slant to such a thorny, complex issue by no means dodges the questions of humanity that inevitably arise when dealing with artificial intelligence; if anything, her more grounded viewpoint only makes the issue more approachable: I’m Your Man isn’t as highfalutin or intellectual as some of the other entries in the genre, but it tackles the questions inherent in its premise with just as much grace and intelligence.

Even as Alma lets her guard down around Tom, there remains a barrier between them, as she’s too aware of the lies she’d have to buy into if she let herself be wooed. Is Tom truly developing humanity, or is his algorithm just adjusting to Alma’s desires? Is there a difference? Alma studies the poetry found in ancient laws written in cuneiform, but refuses to let herself see the poetry and beauty in her relationship with Tom, too frightened of the possibility of getting suckered in by its ease. 

It’s a deceptively smart movie, lulling you in with easy chemistry and light laughs, and then unexpectedly worming into both your heart and your mind. The ending in particular stands out, not only for its ambiguity but the places it puts its characters in. Schrader never opts for an easy answer or resolution, even when one presents itself, and so while the rom and com elements are ever present and quite effective, there’s a deeper interrogation running under the surface that gives I’m Your Man an enthusiastic spark of life to it.

I’m Your Man Trailer

I’m Your Man was screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.