I’m Your Man (2021)

I’m not convinced that Dan Stevens ever fully achieved the movie star dream career he abruptly left Downton Abbey to pursue.  Between his career-defining run on that glorified soap opera and the Disney Prince paycheck he cashed after the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake, he’s probably financially set for life.  I get the sense that he’s still not creatively fulfilled, though.  After a strong start in the weirdo action thrillers The Guest and Legion, he’s mostly been doing anonymous, supporting work that doesn’t draw much attention to his movie-star potential as a leading man.  The German sci-fi romcom I’m Your Man is a welcome corrective step in that treadmill career trajectory.  In the film, Stevens stars as a perfectly calibrated robot boyfriend, a role that emphasizes both his generic handsomeness and his eerie, inhuman coldness.  Instead of running away from his default perception as a dime-a-dozen Ken Doll hunk (the exact reason Stevens fled from Downton Abbey as soon as he could), I’m Your Man leans hard into that quality, pressing both on its charms and its limitations.  It’s a perfect encapsulation of what makes him unique as a screen presence, which is something he doesn’t always get to showcase.

In I’m Your Man, robo-Dan Stevens is beta-tested by a recently divorced research scientist (Maren Eggert), who is reluctant to treat him like a potential A.I. life partner instead of a household appliance.  She reluctantly agrees to the study in a bargain that will land her own academic research future funding opportunities but finds the implication that a robot boyfriend would fulfill an emotional need in her life insulting.  Initially annoyed by his machinelike perfection and his servantile attention to her every need, she gradually learns to love the walking, talking dildo despite herself.  Their dynamic feels like a broadcast from a slightly brighter world where heartfelt romcoms get to tackle heady subjects usually reserved for eerie sci-fi chillers like Ex Machina.  It’s a very familiar Turing Test story structure that’s not usually played with such a lightness in its doomed human-robot romance.  It balances its romcom cuteness with just enough melancholy & heartbreak to feel sophisticated, but not enough to match the dramatic despair of much drearier sci-fi romances like Her and Never Let Me Go.  Like robo-Dan Stevens, it’s perfectly calibrated for what it is, with all the charms & limitations implied.

If there’s some larger topical or philosophical statement I’m Your Man is trying to make about humanity’s evolving relationship with technology, I’m not able to fully pinpoint it.  It romanticizes the shortcomings & imperfections that distinguish humans from machinery (most starkly in a slow-motion montage of “Epic Fail” YouTube clips).  At the same time, it’s also honest about how comforting & safe it feels to interact with machines instead of our fellow fuck-ups (maybe as subtle commentary on the distinctly modern isolation of smartphone addiction).  I don’t know that it makes any grand, definitive statements about human nature or technological comforts, though.  It instead gently pokes at the boundaries between the natural & the artificial, finding odd moments of peace & romance in their overlap.  For me, the movie’s clearest purpose is in highlighting the eerie charms of Dan Stevens as a screen presence, finding his exact sweet spot as a potential leading man.  Otherwise, it’s just an above-average romcom with a fun sci-fi spin.

-Brandon Ledet

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