Bleecker Street Media
By Meg Shields Published on September 27, 2021
This I’m Your Man review is part of our ongoing press coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. From reviews to interviews to recap lists, follow everything related to TIFF 2021.
Alma Felser (Maren Eggert) sits alone in a cabaret. She is waiting for someone. Or is that something? In her capacity as an expert in the scientific community, Alma has been offered a dedicated position between a quality assurance and ethics committee member. Her mission, should she accept it, is to evaluate a model of a new line of humanoid cyborgs to determine what rights they should be granted in society. An android was made especially for them. He is the perfect partner, supposedly able to respond to any need, both conscious and subconscious. He can also dance rumba. (Whether or not he can Roomba is a different matter).
Despite her great skepticism, Alma is reluctant to accept participation in the experiment once her research funds are on the scales. And so, with a three-week trial against Tom (Dan Stevens), the robot man of your dreams. Programmed with an English accent and tireless zeal to ensure Alma’s happiness, Tom sets out to show the reserved Alma how human a robot can be. And of course, as is the rom-com manner, Alma’s ever-growing relationship with Tom forces her to face the limits of her human need for love and affection.
Directed by Maria Schrader (Unorthodox), who co-wrote the script Jan Schomburg from a short story by Emma Braslavsky, I am your man is a weird, cute, and uncompromisingly bizarre entry in the sparsely populated sci-fi rom-com genre. All fictions about androids and artificial intelligence are ultimately an opportunity to examine our own flawed programming: the way we rely on past observations to judge how we should interact with others; and how we are the sum of all experiences and data that have been brought to us for better or for worse over the years.
Despite all of the world-changing effects of his cyborg setup, I’m Your Man remains true to its rom-com roots in its humble, interpersonal proportions. We are told that the fate of the robots is (at least in part) in Alma’s judgment. But the film is decidedly disinterested in possible hinge-meets-terminator robot riots or clumsy, submissive class metaphors. Instead, his philosophical inquiry is appropriately intimate: a personal matter where on an individual level we draw the line where love can happen. At a time when every search result, product, and message is curated by an algorithm to suit our individual tastes, I’m Your Man certainly raises some sensitive and largely unanswered questions. But in the end, the film trusts that we will chew on those pointed thematic nuggets ourselves and prefer to concentrate on his love story than destroy the mood with a grim reminder that our phones are always listening. That is of course a good reputation.
Look, I understand that people “speak more than one language” and that Dan Stevens “actually speaks German fluently all the time”. But for viewers familiar with Stevens’ previous work on the big and small screen, it is absolutely banal to see the actor speaking entirely in German. You will believe a robot can love! And you will believe that Dan “Englishman” Stevens is actually a German robot who was developed as a foreign but approachable romantic partner.
You may have heard rumors that Stevens’ performance in I’m Your Man is one of his finest works. And I’m here to enthusiastically join my peers in beating that drum to the devil. Stevens is the weird valley of actors. He’s not conventionally handsome enough to make it as a proven lead actor. And he doesn’t look strange enough to pass for a real character actor. The result is usually that movies don’t quite know how to best capitalize on its strange, unplaceable on-screen presence. An exception is perhaps Adam Wingard’s 2014 slasher The Guest, in which Stevens plays a charming predator on the lookout whose deadly intentions cannot help but see through. I’m here to crown I’m Your Man the new reigning Champion on “How to Use Your Dan Stevens”. Despite Tom’s accessible qualities, you can tell immediately that something is wrong. This is the perfect mood for a love robot quoting Rainer Maria Rilke, who despite our knowledge that it is made of wires and silica, feels absolutely human.
While it is an absolute craze to see Stevens’ intrinsic je-ne-sais-quoi as a weapon to this extent, its intended performance in itself is remarkable. Tom’s earnest attempts to please and understand have a subtle pull, his unexpected cheek and humor, and the creepy way he ends up doing it, make compelling evidence of a more blurred line of what it means to be human and lovable to be .
Alongside Stevens’ charm and necessary strangeness is Eggert, whose appearance, which was awarded the Berlin Silver Bear, gives Alma an assignable depth that never threatens to boil over into melodrama. She is middle-aged, recently separated, and suspicious not only of androids but of her own ability to earn and accept love and intimacy. Damn awesome sci-fi set-up, Alma never feels unleashed or overdone in her thoroughly modern struggle with her robotic happiness. I’m Your Man can play all the more confidently in the genre gap.
In fact, I’m Your Man successfully challenges the complexities of modern camaraderie without getting too lost in its own science fiction sauce. As a result, the movie’s final message favors the simple (but true) insights from its more rom-com leanings. None of his observations are particularly earth-shattering. But they vibrate deeply and sometimes that’s enough. In the end, the film focuses more on relationships and human interactions than on weighty and unsettling questions about artificial intimacy à la carte. In other words, it’s a movie that cares more about what it means to be human than what it means to date a robot. Which is perfectly fine with us and my apologies to all the robots reading this.
Related Topics: Dan Stevens, Romantic Comedy, Sci-Fi, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)
Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior executive at Film School Rejects. She currently heads three columns at FSR: The Queue, How’d They Do That? and horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer. Meg can yell about John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’ here on Twitter: @TheWorstNun. (You / you).