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Review: Love gets technical in romantic comedy ‘I’m Your Man’

A man and a woman lie side by side on their backs in the grass.
Dan Stevens and Maren Eggert in the 2021 film “I’m Your Man.”
(Christine Fenzl / Bleecker Street)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

Dating stinks. Am I right, ladies?

Wouldn’t it be nice to avoid those annoyingly real human men and enjoy the company of a robot that looks like Dan Stevens and is perfectly programmed to fulfill your emotional and physical needs? In Maria Schrader’s “I’m Your Man,” co-written with Jan Schomburg and based on a short story by Emma Braslavsky, intimate relationships and artificial intelligence meet to mixed, yet poignant, results.

Maren Eggert stars as Alma, a buttoned-up academic who is “testing” a new technology: a humanoid robot named Tom (Stevens), who has been designed as her perfect romantic companion. Though Alma is hesitant, her boss Roger (Falilou Seck) has asked her to evaluate whether this technology should be approved and if the robots should potentially have human rights. In return, he dangles a tantalizing research trip to inspect Sumerian cuneiform tablets in Chicago (hot stuff).

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“I’m Your Man” starts as a gender-flipped rom-com riff on the myth of Pygmalion (what if the perfect man is too perfect?) and its ensuing humor as Tom calibrates to Alma’s desires. It evolves into a philosophical and deeply resonant exploration of what it means to be human. Is the meaning of life to be challenged? To be sanded down, honed or in some way changed by the friction of others? And has Alma allowed herself to be sanded down too much?

Alma is a no-nonsense woman who believes that easy fulfillment is too good to be true. So she resists Tom’s romantic overtures, which are based on what 93% of German women want (and other relevant statistics). She believes in discoverable facts and reality, not the illusion, but damn if that illusion doesn’t have dreamy baby blues and a highly sensitive, high-tech capacity for discerning her every need, which does not necessarily match her (professed) wants.

In the last couple of years, Stevens has made some fascinating choices that toy with his Ken-doll good looks (see also: his hysterical, bravura turn in “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”). He’s ideally suited to this role of a perfect robot man with a heart of gold and he inhabits the physicality of the character with subtle accuracy: swivels of his head and stiffness of posture suggest inhuman movement. His fluent but British-accented German is explained by Alma’s preference for foreign men.

Eggert starts as the straight woman, reacting wide-eyed and silently, but her performance becomes something exceptionally lovely and nuanced, slowly unfolding the layers of Alma’s lost loves, her cynicism, the emotional walls that stand in the way of accepting Tom into her life. Even though she believes he’s merely a simulation of the real thing, the way Tom sees her startles Alma into an earthy, sensual existence that she has not experienced in a long time. Even if it’s artificial emotional intelligence, what’s wrong with a little peace, love and understanding?

The script by Schrader and Schomburg is fantastic, with the dialogue cutting to the quick. Because Tom is inhuman, he questions the tropes and belief systems that shape our reality and shows that what we perceive to be “real” is just made up of illusions and memories.

The ending is ambiguous enough to be refreshingly un-clichéd. While “I’m Your Man” is very romantic in its own way, the movie is elevated by pondering not just love but life and our impending relationship to advanced artificial intelligence, a question that is surely already upon us.

'I’m Your Man'

In German with English subtitles

Rated: R, for some sexual content and language.

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, the Landmark, West Los Angeles


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