Berlinale FF 2021

I’m Your Man review – fun but featherlight twist on human-robot love

Dan Stevens gives a pitch-perfect turn in Maria Schrader's thoughtful comedy, though the film fails to make a lasting impact

Directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Maria Schrader (Unorthodox), I’m Your Man wonders what it is that truly makes us human in our technologically advanced world. Alma (Maren Eggert) is a workaholic research scientist who has recently separated from her partner. As the only single person in her workplace, she agrees to be part of a new project after being bribed with research funding: to live with a humanoid robot for a period of three weeks.

But these are no ordinary robots: they are alarmingly lifelike and meticulously programmed to make their human companions happy and want nothing in return. After undertaking numerous tests and a brain scan, Alma is presented with Tom (Dan Stevens), supposedly her dream man. “Maybe they know you better than you know yourself,” her colleague wryly suggests.

Every interaction Tom has with Alma fine-tunes his algorithm, picking up on her likes and dislikes. He colour-coordinates her bookshelf, but, if she prefers, can return it to its exact previous state in 11 minutes flat. He can solve complex sums in seconds and give medical assistance at a moment’s notice. He speaks German with a British accent, because, as he explains to Alma, “you are attracted to men who are slightly foreign. Not local, but not exotic.” But as Alma transforms from being vaguely annoyed to increasingly sucked in by Tom’s sanguine presence, she begins to wonder if she herself has been living a lonely, robot-like existence.

A lazy but apt comparison would be to Black Mirror, though the plot’s romantic crux is more similar to Ex Machina or Her – films examining whether humans and robots/computers can ever truly find love with one another. But instead of adopting a self-serious approach, I’m Your Man sets itself apart from more solemn takes on this theme with a real sense of humour. When Alma first meets Tom they’re in a bar where couples are manically doing a jitterbug-style dance to “Puttin’ On The Ritz” – the surreal energy is oddly Lynchian.

Eggert and Stevens’ comic timing is perfectly calibrated, too; as Tom, Stevens taps into the tongue-in-cheek camp recently seen in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga to deliver an extremely funny performance, despite the restrictive nature of his robotic facial expressions and physicality. His mimicking of human behaviours, such as admiring a painting, are perfectly pitched.

[Read more reviews from the Berlin International Film Festival 2021]

Meanwhile, a supporting cast that includes Sandra Hüller (Toni Erdmann) successfully round-out what amounts to a slightly off-kilter ride. The production design and cinematography plunge us into a world that is almost normal, but somewhat artificial; a too-bright light here, oddly 2D scenery there, like an expert rendering of a strange dream.

Perhaps where I’m Your Man falters is its inability to combine grander and more thought-provoking philosophical concepts with its tight grasp on comedy. After Tom reveals to Alma that the project she has been researching for three years is about to be published by a different research team in Argentina, she has an alcohol-induced breakdown and tries to initiate sex with Tom. But this robot has been programmed with something his human counterparts sometimes lack: consent. There are many such instances that see interesting examinations on gender and trauma, but they don’t seem to go anywhere beyond a thought that briefly lingers in the air.

“If we allow humanoids as spouses, we will become a society of addicts,” Alma eventually states, “gorged and weary from having their needs permanently met.” This is true: but both the audience and Alma herself already know this at the start of the film. Her foretold epiphany, alongside the rather abrupt ending, prevent I’m Your Man from being more profound or affecting than it had the potential to be.

In one scene, when Alma asks Tom to leave, we watch him exit her apartment via a long shot and simply lay his head forlornly against a metal bin. It’s remarkably moving, articulating the gaping rift between lonely people and the necessary tools to help them. Ultimately, though, with such moments few and far between, I’m Your Man functions far more successfully as a low-stakes comedy with a surreal edge than a profound treatise on humanity.

I'm Your Man was screened as part of the Berlin International Film Festival 2021. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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