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TIFF 2021 Review: I’m Your Man – “Smart and entertaining”

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Image courtesy of TIFF

Most of us long for that perfect partnership.  We might go out to a bar, accept set-ups through friends, or peruse dating websites in hopes of finding that special someone we can love.  But what if that perfect person could be manufactured?  To look exactly like what you are attracted to, act how you want it to act.  What if your perfect match was, in fact, a robot?

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I’m Your Man (Ich bin dein Mensch) explores just this possibility.  Alma (Maren Eggert, who won the Silver Bear award for Best Acting Performance at the Berlin International Film Festival) is a scientist at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.  When she is asked to be one of ten experts to test a new type of cyborg for three weeks she is immediately skeptical.  This robot will be made specifically for her, the culmination of millions and millions of data points extracted from humanity, and based on her particular likes.  Alma sees this as a transaction only, she will provide her opinion for an ethics committee and then move on with her own work.

When she enters this fancy bar, couples enjoying cocktails, dancing together, she is introduced to Tom (Dan Stevens).  She immediately tests his knowledge.  He excels in math.  He can recite poetry by memory.  But there is more to him than that. His algorithm is specifically designed for Alma’s happiness.  He can discuss her likes, avoid her dislikes, make her the most beautiful breakfast or greet her when she comes home with a drawn bath and champagne.  He might be perfect.  A little too perfect.  She continually tries to keep Tom at arm’s length, with little interest in love or connection, but as Tom learns and his programming adapts their relationship so to changes.

What results is an often humorous exploration of what it really means to be human.  Director Maria Schrader (who also wrote the screenplay alongside Jan Schomburg) makes us ask ourselves what is important in companionship and connection.  Is perfection the goal, or do our imperfections improve our relationships?  The film doesn’t delve too deeply into the ethical implications of android partners, or their rights, though it is briefly mentioned.  Leave that to Black Mirror to discuss.  Schrader is more interested in the human condition, what happiness truly means, and which of her characters is displaying more in the way of empathy and kindness.  As Tom gets to test his algorithm out at the coffee shop, or a housewarming party, the line between him and Alma’s humanity becomes more blurred.

There is something quite remarkable in Stevens’ portrayal as the German speaking cyborg companion.  Sure, I had no idea he was fluent in German, so there’s one thing, but he pulls off the perfect balance of human and artificial.  His mannerisms are robotic enough, but not so over the top to be inhuman.  For this film to work you need to love Tom, not fear him, and he is instantly likeable, especially in his innocence as he starts interacting and understanding the world around him.  Eggert as Alma is much more complex than your typical rom-com role. She has this stoney exterior, in fact outwardly opposed to any sort of connection, yet as her walls start coming down, as you might predict will happen in a film of this genre, Eggert still portrays her character’s inner pain. Humans come with history, and she slowly peels back the layers, just like the archeological artifacts she studies.

I’m Your Man might tread into predictability in its third act, but it’s all for the greater good.  It’s hard to think of another “rom-com” that so deftly looks at the human condition; our ego.  Is being human really better when you look at the way we treat each other?  Is being human necessary for connection, for emotion, for romance?  Answers to these questions may eventually come our way as technology advances, who knows.  But for now, Schrader’s smart and entertaining film gives us just enough insight to start that quest looking inwards at ourselves.

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