I’m Your Man : ‘Berlinale’ Review – Therapeutic robot-romance wisely investigates modern relationships and their potential
Robot-romances have often been called out for putting themselves in the corner. They almost always come down to the same, straight question – Is living with a robot equivalent to living with a human? The answer is obviously a big ‘No’ but these diversions often serve for a proper understanding of why or why not human relationships work. In German director, Maria Schrader’s “I’m Your Man,” Dan Stevens stars as a robot that willfully accepts and transforms its algorithm along with that of its human owner/partner Alma (Maren Egert). In doing so, Schrader distills the science out of the story to investigate more pertinent questions about modern relationships.
Alma (Maren Eggert) works at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Her work includes long hours of researches that often extends out of the context of her office to that of the confines of her city-overlooking apartment. Her latest research needs funds that her dean (a superior at the office) promises only if she undergoes an extraordinary study. The study includes living with a humanoid robot for three weeks. Her evaluation of the same would give her the funds she needs to complete her latest work.
Alma, who has shut herself off from getting involved in romantic relationships isn’t quite eager to undergo this ordeal. However, regrettably, the unsentimental part of her agrees to partake in this experiment that includes acquiring a machine programmed according to her likes. This means that the Robot will serve as a perfect life partner for her. That is, only if she allows it to.
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After a few initial glitches, Tom (Dan Stevens) is tailor-made for her and she has no other option other than allowing it to live with her for three weeks. What follows is a kitsch romance that somehow manages to overcome its listless possibilities to uncover some wise truths about what it’s like to be human and how the need for perfection both constraints and liberates us.
Coming to the film, “I’m Your Man” has staples of a familiar premise. The human-robot romance has served some interesting turnover in films like “Her” and “Ex Machina.” However, Maria Schrader’s film is a rather playful spin on the same-old mechanism. While most of these films end with an inevitable realization that no amount of sci-fi genius can make humanoids ideal partners for humans, Schrader’s film spins the idealness to see why the human need for perfection is often the biggest leap that needs to be made.
The film uses technology to read into Alma. In doing so, the director manages to seep through Alma’s solid exterior to excavate a deeply heartfelt deed about the reason behind her being so. In many ways, the film uses Tom’s savvy personality to give Alma a therapeutic second start. This is the kind of winsome optimism that feels grounded, in spite of being a part of a bigger, cheesier romantic narrative.
Positives aside, some things in “I’m Your Man” don’t work at all. The entire arc which deals with Alma’s father and his aimless, lonely existence is meant to serve as a sort of calling for Alma. But instead, these narrative strands feel poorly constructed and unnecessary. The entire idea of keeping the sci-fi elements to a minimum and then showing Tom clearing up the apartment and re-doing the cleaning are elements that only further make the tone tacky.
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Partly inspired by “Ich bin dein Mensch” by Emma Braslavsky, the film doesn’t necessarily excel in the writing department either. If it wasn’t for the excellent performances by both Dan Stevens (who particularly shines here) and Maren Eggert, these characters would have come off as self-indulgent. Eggert grounds her character’s transition from a sheltered, unaffected entity to a woman who longs to be loved, with ease. Stevens who serves as a perfect counter to her antiques is particularly intriguing as a soulful robot. His eagerness to please Alma comes off as genuine while it lies somewhere between frustrating and overdrawn on paper.
Within all the ups and downs, the flaws and wins, Schrader’s “I’m Your Man” remain centered on Alma’s need to understand herself. This is a simple story that roots her problems in a world that isn’t technologically crippled to let her reel. However, since the problem is internal, her struggles are also supposed to be exactly that.
DIRECTOR: Maria Schrader
SCREENWRITER(S): Jan Schomburg, Maria Schrader
EDITOR: Hansjörg Weißbrich
DOP: Benedict Neuenfels
MUSIC: Tobias Wagner
RUNTIME: 105 MINUTES