As countless hideous comedy movies can attest, it’s not easy being funny on the big screen. To do so is a mighty feat, but to do it in a foreign language is a truly rare cinematic achievement, a challenge risen to and met by Dan Stevens in new German sci-fi-com I’m Your Man. Playing a love-bot in near-future Berlin, Stevens adds yet another hugely impressive string to his bow, taking what could have been an overly slight premise and turning it into one of the most gently enjoyable films of the summer.
Stevens is Tom, a prototype artificial companion in the final three weeks of testing, being put through his AI paces by historian Alma (Maren Eggert) as he adjusts to living in a human home. Alma is less than enthused by the prospect – she’s taking part in the tests mostly to curry favour with the dean of her university – but Tom has been specifically designed to please her, so her initial standoffishness gradually softens as Tom learns what it means to be a partner.
The AI-lover subgenre – see; recent TV hits like Westworld and Humans – generally pre-occupies itself with the morality of the whole endeavour. Does creating near-human life require you to grant that life equal rights? Can a robot possibly give consent? These are questions that are briefly addressed but mostly given short shrift in I’m Your Man, director Maria Schrader and her co-writer Jan Schomburg (adapting a short story by Emma Braslavsky) less concerned with dystopian ethics than they are with the frankly more interesting issue of what makes love real and fulfilling.
It’s a choice that lends itself to a lighter, brighter tone, while still cutting into the human condition. We all bemoan disagreements and differences of opinion, but it’s exactly this friction that pushes us forward, while overcoming it provides a benchmark for how much the relationship really matters. As Alma navigates this issue, I’m Your Man is by turns sweet and funny, Schrader and Stevens playing off each other very well.
Eggert makes for a compellingly disarming lead – we essentially learn her inner life at the same pace as Tom, which is both frustrating and, eventually, moving and cathartic – but it’s Stevens who proves to be the star attraction. His robotic blankness and movements, matched with a growing sense of snark and arrogance that Tom learns from Alma, is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, whilst Stevens’s British accent coupled with the German dialogue gives just a hint of an aloof alien-ness that really sells the lo-fi sci-fi of the concept.
Schrader has some smart observations to make about the way humans try and fail to communicate – though having Alma be an expert in dead languages at the same time as she tries to learn to cohabit with the most modern offshoot of humanity is a little heavy-handed. It’s a surprisingly funny and upbeat approach to a story that is so often told with a po face, avoiding pretentious pontificating and earning a lot of laughs along the way. It’s proof positive that a light touch doesn’t necessarily mean less impactful, and provides Dan Stevens with yet another stage to show that he really should be an international superstar by now.