MOVIE OF THE WEEK September 17, 2021: I’M YOUR MAN

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If Westworld had been a romcom instead of a gory sci-fi parable, it might have ended up looking something like Maria Schrader‘s winsome I’m Your Man, which follows a skeptical academic who agrees to test a “perfect partner” android in exchange for research funding support. Determined to poke the concept full of holes, she reluctantly finds herself drawn to her manufactured soulmate — and does a fair bit of self-analysis along the way.

Alma (Maren Eggert) wants nothing more than to focus on her work researching ancient cuneiform writing, but her boss at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin wants her to help a new company assess the viability of their product: robot companions tailor-made to be ideal lovers/partners for their recipients. So Alma is introduced to Tom (Dan Stevens) and agrees to take him home with her for three weeks. But she initially refuses to give him any kind of a chance to provide proof of concept — she treats him like a machine, tosses his gestures of kindness back in his face, and is generally about as cooperative as a toddler. Tom takes it all in stride, his algorithms leaving him unruffled and perfectly pleasant, which, frankly, only irritates Alma further.

But thanks to his programmed persistence and her human vulnerability — she’s faced with both a work crisis and difficult personal situations during Tom’s time with her — she gradually finds herself bending and appreciating Tom’s presence in her life. Whether she’s willing to accept her own feelings is a wholly different matter, though. Eggert does an excellent job conveying Alma’s conflicting emotions as she spends time with Tom. She is by turns warm and brusque, needy and standoffish. In other words, she’s a human woman. And Stevens is perfect as the unflappable Tom, who is eager to learn all he can about humanity in general, and Alma in particular.

Schrader proves deft at balancing comedy and drama in I’m Your Man, with scenes of poignant connection mixed seamlessly with bursts of humor, mostly thanks to Tom’s not-quite-right reactions and responses. And the moral questions at the heart of the movie are fascinating: Do machines have rights? What makes someone human? Is it possible to find a true soulmate, whether by happenstance or design? Do we all deserve love? Ultimately, this film leaves you thinking as much as it leaves you smiling. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Nell Minow: Is there such a thing as a perfect match? Like “Mr. Right” and “Marjorie Prime,” “I’m Your Man” explores the conflict between protecting our hearts and opening ourselves up to true intimacy by pairing a woman with a manufactured “perfect match.” The bittersweet tone provides just the right setting for an understated setting where holograms and sentient robots seem almost natural. Who knows, if Alexa or Siri can look like blue-eyed Dan Stevens, with his perpetual expression of patient curiosity and excellent dancing skills, they might put eHarmony out of business.

Sherin Nicole I’m Your Man is a philosophical romance, set within the premise: How does falling in love with someone who isn’t human make our humanity more vivid? It is a question we return to often—in comedies, in dramas, in sci-fi and in epic fantasy—we can’t help but wonder what someone on the outside might teach us about living. Directed by Maria Schrader, adapted by Schrader and Jan Schomburg from a short story by Emma Braslavsky, I’m Your Man chooses an introspective path. There are no villains or contrived reasons for a big breakup, instead we have a woman (Maren Eggert) who has built her world around science and a man (Dan Stevens) who wasn’t born but was built to be her perfect love. What they find together are the walls we erect around our hearts and the bits of early life we extrapolate into our visions of an ideal soulmate. The set-up is a classic but this take works well as a character study and as a gentle romance, while the performances by Eggert and Stevens keep the story fresh and tangible with a sprinkle of amusement.

Pam Grady: A lonely anthropologist takes part in a radical science experiment that leaves her (and the audience) questioning just what it means to be human in this captivating amalgam of comedy, sci-fi, and romance. In a near-future Berlin, Alma (Maren Eggert) agrees to live with a humanoid robot whose algorithm has been programmed to not just be her perfect love match but to be able to anticipate and fulfill her every need. But Tom (Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens), who has been made to fit Alma’s desires to the smallest detail—and thus he speaks German with an English accent, because she likes foreign men—weirds her out. He is too attentive, too romantic, too understanding—too perfect. His biggest flaw is that he’s a bit of a mansplainer but his interactions with her should soon cure that as his algorithm adjusts. And adjusts it does, for while Alma frets over a love match that every fiber of her being says is wrong, Tom grows more and more human, further complicating her feelings. Eggert is sweetly conflicted while Stevens charm makes the idea of coupling with a robot as not just something to be considered but is, perhaps, inevitable. A welcome addition to the sci-fi subgenre in which people fall for robots (Making Mr. Right), space aliens (The Hidden), and even operating systems (Her).

Leslie Combemale Here’s a rom-com with heart and depth. Maria Schrader’s I’m Your Man presents a powerful examination of the nature of love and what qualifies as having a ’soul’, which is to say, what it means to exist with meaning. The answer embodied in Dan Stevens’s Tom shows we should all think beyond the traditional understanding of personhood, especially as society is getting closer and closer to creating humanoid robots that demonstrate feeling and exhibit individual quirks. Stevens is casting perfection, at the same time slightly creepy and utterly charming, and Maren Eggert as Alma flips the script as the far more robotic, and at times unfeeling human in the equation. This winning dramedy will have you rooting for Alma and Tom as a new and perfectly suited couple, even if he was designed expressly to woo her. Between the two of them, they equal at least one fully emotionally functional human, and isn’t the best romance one in which the two halves equal more together than alone?

Jennifer Merin I’m Your Man is Maria Shrader’s thoroughly entertaining sci fi dramedy about a young and highly independent academic who reluctantly takes on the task of testing a male robot (malebot?) that (who?) has been designed and programmed to be her ideal mate with face and physique, attitudes and moods selected to ideally meet her every need and bring her bliss. They’re scheduled to live together for three weeks, enough time for her to evaluate him — and form a genuine (albeit artificial) relationship. The film is breezy and amusing, but also touches on serious and easily relatable concerns about loneliness, ambition, emotional authenticity and, to some degree, self medication. I’m Your Man is a very satisfying genre-defying cross between Her and Ex Machina and any Kate Hepburn romantic comedy — but from a decidedly feminist point of view. No spoilers. Just enjoy the ride!

Loren King Director Maria Shrader follows her engrossing Netflix series Unorthodox with an unexpected and charming feature that mixes sci-fi comedy and sophisticated romantic fantasy. I’m Your Man is a delight, giving deliciously clever and complex roles to Maren Eggert as Alma, a researcher who’s reluctantly agreed to live with and closely observe for three weeks an A.I. experiment. Tom (Dan Stevens) happens to be a handsome, eager to please “robot” who has been programmed to adapt to Alma’s whims and desires. One can imagine the broad and obvious way this premise would be handled in an average American movie. But this smart, original and idiosyncratic German film is a deft blend of physical comedy, honest human drama and delicate, playful romance.

Susan Wloszczyna: I’m Your Man, directed by Maria Schrader, revolves around a robotic dreamboat who is part of a study involving companions who are tailored-made for one human’s personality and emotional needs. In the case of middle-aged academic Alma (Maren Eggert) — who just broke up with a co-worker — she signs on to the three-week experiment in order to fund her own research project. That requires her to live with non-human Tom (Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame, the most valuable player in the cast who constantly ups the humor ante with much aplomb. And take a moment to consider that this English actor had to learn German for his role). Read full review.

Marilyn Ferdinand Filmmakers have long been attracted to the interaction of human beings and humanoid robots. Fritz Lang sees such robots as an unmitigated evil in Metropolis (1927), while Michael Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime (2017) portrays them as a way to provide a better quality of life for the elderly and infirm. Maria Schrader, an outstanding German actor who has directed only a handful of films and who co-wrote and directed I’m Your Man, seems not to have made up her mind about what robots can offer humanity. Her robot, Thomas (Dan Stevens), has been programmed to be the perfect mate for Alma (Maren Eggert), a divorced anthropologist who has agreed to evaluate the advisability of human-robot relationships. The central question is whether such relationships are “real” and whether that matters. The film is fairly predictable and skims the surface of several provocative ideas it raises and leaves sitting on a shelf. Still, I found the warmth of the film appealing, and Eggert gives a wonderful performance.

Sandie Angulo Chen: German director Maria Shrader’s film I’m Your Man is like a cross between A.I. and Her. Forty-something academic Alma (Maren Eggert) has agreed to spend three weeks testing out an A.I. partner personalized specifically for her. Her model, Tom (Dan Stephens), is so affirming, loving, and encouraging that logical Alma finds him laughably off-putting. But as they spend more time together, Alma and Tom’s bond develops into something that’s difficult to describe. Despite Alma’s inner conflict and angst, Shrader keeps the tone hopeful, and the two leads provide their characters with nuance and depth (yes, even a robot contains multitudes). A date night selection that’s sure to spark conversation about the nature of love and humanity.

Liz Whittemore The script asks us to challenge the traditional romantic relationship. When you step back, it’s quite socially relevant. With the ever-evolving, gender nonconforming dynamics in today’s world, I’m Your Man takes an angle that may serve as more approachable for many viewers. This story might be a gateway for greater acceptance. Anything is possible. What I do know for sure is that this sci-fi dramedy is completely enchanting. It put a permanent smile on my face from the very moment it began. It’s undeniably swoon-worthy. Love is irrational, no matter how you look at it. I’m Your Man speaks this idea most candidly. It’s not any more implausible than love itself. Read full review.

Cate Marquis German director Maria Schrader’s sci-fi tale I’m Your Man (Ich Bin Dein Mensch) starts out like a romantic comedy, where Alma (Maren Eggert), an archaeologist who studies ancient poetry, reluctantly agrees to be a tester for a new invention: an android designed to be a substitute for a romantic partner. In exchange for funding for her research, Alma is requires her to keep the android for three weeks and then write a report. When she arrives to pick him up , she is escorted to a romantic nightclub setting to meet her android Tom (Dan Stevens), who is specially programmed to suit her tastes. But what starts out as a meet-cute human-robot rom-com, eventually evolves into something deeper, even meditating on the risks of substituting a perfect artificial construct for real human interactions. Schrader, whose previous work includes “Unorthodox,” crafts a thoughtful film that both tugs at our heart and makes us think, and Dan Stevens and Maren Eggert turn in strong, affecting performances that help propel the film.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: I’m Your Man

Directors: Maria Schrader

Release Date: September 24, 2021

Running Time: 105 minutes

Language: French with English subtitles

Screenwriters: Jan Schomburg, Maria Schrader, based on the novel by Emma Braslavsky

Distribution Company: Bleecker Street Media

Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).