He’s handsome and intelligent, well dressed, and a good dancer. He even listens intently, and his eyes don’t stray when a pretty girl walks by. He’s almost too good to be true. Alma can’t believe it: It’s as if he was created just for her.
That’s because he was. She is Alma (Maren Eggert), a cuneiform researcher, and she needs extra funding to complete her latest project. So she agrees to participate in an ethics study: Live three weeks with a fully functioning humanoid-looking robot and report back to a representative (Sandra Hüller) about the robot’s efficacy as a partner. The company that builds these robots also specializes in life-like holograms to keep people company. They’re trying to make the world a little less lonely, one person at a time.
But Alma’s not sold that she is lonely in the first place. Or, at least, she doesn’t mind being alone. Though there are some benefits to having a companion around. Hers is named Tom (Dan Stevens), and he’s been designed specifically for Alma based on her wants, needs, and memories. At first, Alma’s marveled by Tom. Then, she’s annoyed.
One of the pleasures of I’m Your Man, based on the short story by Emma Braslavsky and directed by Maria Schrader, is that quick turn Alma makes. Everyone is looking for the perfect someone or something. But when you find it, it bores the hell out of you. Besides, do we want perfection or compatibility? That only comes organically, which isn’t easy for Tom, a synthetic creation, to overcome. He tries. It’s an inspired touch that Tom is neither too literal and robotic nor too creative and human. Instead, the movie aims for the middle, allowing Tom’s algorithm to adapt. He becomes capable of humor, even creating necessary falsehoods when a moment turns awkward. As far as algorithms go, Tom’s is pretty advanced.
And Stevens doesn’t force it. He settles for a few stiff movements and enough unnatural stares here and there to remind you he’s not human. It’s just enough and not too much. It also helps that I’m Your Man is in German, a second language to Stevens, which creates another layer of distance. If the movie were in English, Stevens’ performance would probably feel false.
But the star of the show is Eggert’s Alma, a woman who has lived alone long enough to figure out how to access the world from a solo state of mind. It isn’t belabored, but the nature and specificity of her work leads me to believe that she married it long ago and has been happy with the results ever since. The addition of Tom isn’t just a disruption; it’s an intrusion.
Though I’m Your Man’s premise is decidedly sci-fi, the movie doesn’t feel anything of the sort. The philosophical questions surrounding human/robot interactions, companionship, loneliness, and identity are kept mainly to the side. Instead, Schrader and co-writer Jan Schomburg go for light comedy with a dash of melancholy to tell their story. It works because it leaves you with more questions than answers.
I’m Your Man / Ich bin dein Mensch (2021)
Directed by Maria Schrader
Written by Jan Schomburg, Maria Schrader
Based on the short story by Emma Braslavsky
Produced by Lisa Blumenberg
Starring: Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller
Bleecker Street, Rated R, Running time 105 minutes, Opens Oct. 1, 2021 in select theaters, available October 12 digitally.