Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Can a woman and a robot find bliss?


   At first blush, I’m Your Man seems like another gimmicky entertainment, a movie about the budding relationship between an anthropologist and a robot that looks so real, it can't be distinguished from a flesh-and-blood human. 
   If I’m Your Man had been an American movie that’s exactly how it might have played, with some cuteness thrown in for seasoning. Thankfully, this German import from director Maria Schrader unfolds in surprisingly convincing fashion. 
   While working at a museum, Alma (Maren Eggert) is asked by her boss to determine whether the ethical considerations normally extended to humans should apply to robots who appear to be sentient.  
    Alma reluctantly accepts the job and finds herself sharing her apartment with a robot named Tom (Dan Stevens). The two meet at a club run by the company that produces automatons designed to make people happy.
    Tom is polite without being cloying. A bit supercilious, he speaks German with a British accent because he's been programmed to know that Alma prefers men with an international cache. 
   Frequently amusing, I'm Your Man also plays with serious questions. If a robot can starve off loneliness, why not have one? Should the absence of the messier aspects of a relationship be a dealbreaker? And if the robot has been programmed to please its owner, doesn’t a relationship with one represent a form of emotional masturbation? 
   Schrader handles such weighty questions with a light  touch as Alma introduces Tom to her social and family circles. Most folks don't know that he’s a highly sophisticated machine. 
    Both principal actors are in fine form.  Eggert ably expresses Alma's initial disdain for the project but shows the gradually developing dependence on Tom and the concern she feels for him.
    Tom’s an idealized version of Alma's dream man, but he never seems entirely like an automaton. Stevens' performance is key to the movie's success: I'm Your Man can't work if we doubt that Tom easily passes as a human.
   Look, you can’t make a movie such as I’m Your Man without including a few inconsistencies, but credit Schrader and her fine cast for not taking her subject too seriously, even as she poses a question that’s likely to acquire increasing social relevance.
    Forget Seri and Alexa, when the machines in our lives become entirely lifelike how exactly will we relate to this new form of user-friendliness?

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