Recently announced as Germany’s official submission for the next Oscars, “I’m You’re Man” stars Dan Stevens, the “Downton Abbey” heartthrob of the impossibly piercing blue eyes, as Tom, a German-speaking, lifelike robot who has access to the internet at his fingertips (or, more accurately, inside his head) but whose idea of what a woman wants to hear is to tell her that adjusting her car seat a few degrees will improve her odds of avoiding a crash.
Oh, you sexy devil.
Tom, apparently, is short for Automaton. Although he looks human, he has the stiff, almost birdlike head movements of C-3PO from “Star Wars,” as well the same officious air of a fussy British butler. And despite his smarts, he doesn’t have the good sense to come in out of the proverbial rain, after a coffee shop he’s been left in closes, and the weather turns inclement.
Tom has been paired up with Alma Felser (Maren Eggert), a lonely, single academic researching Sumerian cuneiform tablets, for a few weeks of product testing. Alma, who has recently split up with someone (Hans Löw), has agreed to take Tom home and put him through his paces as a potential romantic partner. Yes, that’s what Tom is designed for, down to the last anatomical detail: lovemaking, not laundry detail. (After he tidies up her apartment without being asked to, Alma makes Tom put everything back in its messy, original place.)
Directed by Maria Schrader from a screenplay she co-wrote with Jan Schomburg, based on a short story by Emma Braslavsky, “I’m Your Man” has intriguing ideas percolating throughout it. Ideas, for example, about the allure of the unattainable and the paradoxical appeal of friction, not harmony, in relationships. It’s a heady dramedy, albeit without terribly many tears or laughs except those that arise, perhaps unintentionally, from the incongruity of Stevens being repellent. Another thing Tom’s missing, apart from the ability to actually want anything – or anyone: pheromones.
It turns out, in a scene in which Tom stands, unnoticed, among a herd of deer, that he has no smell. Not to sing the praises of B.O., but I imagine that some women would prefer a mate who smells like, you know, people as opposed to a piece of patio furniture.
This ultimately is an insurmountable problem for the film, which despite its art-house intentions and provocative, movie-club talking points – and a more believable performance by Eggert, whose character is grieving a secret loss, besides her ex – is stymied by a premise that just doesn’t hold water: that you might be able to fall in love with a robot.
Alma meets Tom at a sort of android speed-dating mixer, where many other human “testers” have gathered to dance, drink and mingle with their perfect, programmable partners. Except for her, everyone else seems to be having a blast with his or her date, most of whom, like Tom, seem to have all the desirability of a latex sex doll with a PhD.
“I’m You’re Man” wants to be profound, even poetic. “Your eyes are like two mountain lakes I could sink into,” Tom tells Alma on their first date. (Slow down there, buckaroo.) Poetry, despite some recent attempts by programmers to generate verse via A.I., is probably something best left to those who can tell the difference between high concept and a cliche.