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Berlinale 2021: “I’m Your Man” is a bittersweet meditation on love

I'm Your Man (Berlinale)

Dan Stevens stars as a seductive but malfunctioning robot companion in Maria Schrader’s refreshing, tender exploration of longing.

(This review is part of our coverage of the 2021 Berlin Film Festival.)

It’s nearly impossible to not think of Spike Jonze’s romantic drama Her while watching Unorthodox creator Maria Schrader’s third feature I’m Your Man. Granted, both movies focus on a relationship between a lonely, messy human being and an AI. But where Jonze’s film tells the story from the male gaze, Schrader flips the narrative and gives the room to a complicated female character. The result is not only refreshing but also more tender and meditative, exploring love, loneliness, and longing over the technological ethics that tend to occupy these kinds of films.

Schrader co-writes the script with Jan Schomburg based on a short story of the same name by Emma Braslavsky, and it concerns a hard-working, independent anthropologist named Alma (Maren Eggert) as she embarks on an unexpected journey of self-discovery. We first meet her as she’s introduced to a humanoid robot named Tom (Dan Stevens), who is specifically programmed to fulfill her needs and happiness, at a bar. But unfortunately, their first meeting doesn’t leave a good impression on Alma, as Tom ends up malfunctioning in the middle of a dance. Still, knowing that the company that makes Tom will be the one who funds her research, Alma has no choice but to take him on a three-week trial.

After bringing Tom home, Alma gives him one directive: to mind his own business and always stay away from her. But he’s already programmed to please Alma, so even though she doesn’t want anything to do with him, he will always do something for her. He makes her breakfast, cleans up the house, picks her up from work. All these awkward interactions between the two are where I’m Your Man gets most of its comedic moments. And both Schrader and Schomburg efficiently draw dry humor from these mundane interactions.

At its core, I’m Your Man probes some very interesting questions about the nature of emotion and technology.

As the movie progresses, and Tom starts to fully adapt to human life, Alma begins to warm up to Tom. Where one she was skeptical, now she’s fully open to the idea that it’s not so bad to feel those joyful feelings she hasn’t had in quite a while. But Alma’s skepticism is important to the narrative of I’m Your Man, Schrader’s film dealing with the concept of love and happiness from a technological perspective.

At its core, I’m Your Man probes some very interesting questions about the nature of emotion and technology. Is it real love if it comes from something artificial? The movie doesn’t provide clear answers to that question, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying. In fact, by keeping things open and not giving away any clear answers, I’m Your Man allows the audience to fully experience Alma’s dilemma.

This isn’t to say that I’m Your Man is a flawless movie; some subplots, especially the one involving Alma’s senile father, can feel a bit unnecessary. The tonal shift that happens as the movie reaches its climax also feels a little unearned. But these are small shortcomings. Mostly, I’m Your Man delivers what it promises at the start: a bittersweet and thought-provoking meditation on love.