Written by Patrick Hao
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.
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