The place Ira Levin’s “The Stepford Other halves” ends is the place a in point of fact attention-grabbing home drama must start. Have you ever by no means questioned if the misogynistic menfolk of Stepford, Conn., having in the end learned their collective dream of flawless, submissive android better halves with cleavage and house responsibilities talents to die for, ever tire of the boring perfection they’ve designed? Existence lived with out friction and unpredictability isn’t a lot of a existence in any respect; definitely it’s just a topic of time sooner than stressed human need sabotages the idyll. German filmmaker Maria Schrader has, one suspects, given the topic some idea, although her cool, grown-up romantic fable “I’m Your Guy” twists the situation’s gender politics and considerably adjustments the stakes — presenting an unbiased, idiosyncratic feminine protagonist with a robotic guy so completely adapted to her wishes that she simply can’t stand it.
The appealingly unusual end result lands someplace between “Ex Machina” and “Toni Erdmann” at the tonal spectrum, if you’ll be able to believe this kind of hybrid — but additionally riffs playfully on a wealth of hoary romantic comedy tropes, together with the uptight profession lady without a room for a love existence, and the strictly-for-practical-reasons pretend dating that blooms into anything difficult. Squint fairly on the display and you’ll be able to on the subject of envision Sandra Bullock in an Americanized model of this subject matter, if now not for a script that many times wraps formulation in philosophy, defamiliarizing issues within the procedure. At any fee, Schrader’s beguiling Berlinale festival access may domesticate a considerable target audience of its personal in world artwork properties — abetted by way of the emerging profile of its helmer (recent from her Emmy win for Netflix’s “Unorthodox”) and the canny casting of British heartthrob Dan Stevens as a boyfriend totally too excellent to be human.
One thing turns out off about Tom (Stevens) the second one 40-something educational Alma (Maren Eggert) is presented to him at what seems to be an elite Berlin singles bar, and it’s now not simply the eerie patience of his blue-eyed gaze. He quotes particular Rilke verses on command with out pausing for idea, he offers compliments that seem written by way of committee (“Your eyes are like two mountain lakes I may sink into”), and he rumbas with mechanical fluidity, a minimum of till his neck will get trapped in a single repeated, glitchy spasm. Give or take some inaccurate wiring, Tom is an immaculate humanoid robotic constructed for human companionship, one of the manufactured in an icy-white lab — now not a bar in any respect — overseen by way of Sandra Hüller’s dead-eyed functionary. Customized-made for Alma after exhaustive surveying of her personal tastes, he’s in a position to be taken house for a three-week trial length; the lab intends him to be her spouse for existence.
Alma, in the meantime, has different concepts: She’s reluctantly agreed to this experiment best to fund her analysis into the poetics of historic administrative texts, and has no real interest in sharing her existence with an A.I. advent, then again handsomely offered. The unflappable-by-design Tom registers a flicker of puzzlement when she presentations him to a separate bed room; his makes an attempt to ingratiate himself by way of cleansing her condo, rustling up a luxurious brunch and working her a candlelit tub are met with exasperated scowls. “93% of German girls dream of this,” he pleads. “Wager which percentile I’m in?” comes the pithy answer.
But what starts as a well-recognized odd-couple dynamic grows extra nuanced and porous as time passes and, as promised, Tom’s set of rules adapts to Alma’s changeable moods and desires. In flip, his smiling, servile veneer cracks, making him extra emotionally expressive, assertive and, smartly, human. It’s now not lengthy sooner than she reveals herself thawing to a lover who offers each look of working out her higher than she’s ever been understood by way of a person — however does it rely if this peculiar emotional intelligence is synthetic, an automated reaction to her personal psychology? Tom grows extra lovably particular person and responsive by way of the day, however isn’t he simply molding himself to her wishes? What appears like love, Alma worries, is extra similar to a efficiency by which she’s each actor and target audience — although, as she watches her aged unmarried father (Wolfgang Hübsch) slip into remoted dementia, the deserves of any companionship in any respect are quietly underlined.
Taking inspiration from a brief tale by way of German publisher Emma Braslavsky, Schrader and co-writer Jan Schomburg serve up a wealthy panoply of questions, solutions and stray concepts. Hardly are those assembled into neat combos, although the script veers too some distance into thematic explication within the ultimate 3rd. There’s no clean ethical or reasonable method to Alma’s predicament; audience with differing personalities and dating histories might smartly succeed in very other conclusions, whilst the movie’s personal sweetly melancholic solution is some distance from straight forward. Schrader’s filmmaking, extra fluent and no more mannered than in her ultimate characteristic “Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe,” helps to keep court cases supple however now not cushy, coloured by way of Tobias Wagner’s wistful, jazz-laced rating and the overcast pastels of Benedict Neuenfels’ lensing, which reveals a guarded romanticism in Berlin’s serious streetscapes. (Town’s glorious Pergamon Museum, in the meantime, will get the moody after-hours remedy it has lengthy deserved on display.)
In any case, a lot relies on the actors to stay this high-concept piece from collapsing into silliness or navel-gazing, and Eggert’s flinty firmness and Stevens’ buttery class end up preferably mismatched from the off — their performances progressively compromise and meet within the heart, borrowing a little bit of one another’s suaveness and metal alongside the way in which. Talking German all through with a crisply anglicized accessory — some other subconscious desire of Alma’s, it seems — Stevens is a wry revelation, progressing from inflexible, unworldly bodily comedy to near-living, respiring emotional turmoil, programmed or in a different way. He makes Tom simple to fall for, no matter precisely he’s, and if his soul is a trifling phantasm, Schrader’s curious charmer helps to keep an open thoughts: Who hasn’t one day beloved what they noticed in an individual, greater than the individual themselves?