Sundance Film Review: Love Me
Sundance Film Review: Love Me
Directors: Andy Zuchero, Sam Zuchero
AgX, 2AM, Scythia Films, ShivHans Pictures
The ability to love and the need to be loved are intrinsic parts of being a living, breathing human being. But are these feelings exclusive to living and breathing beings? Love Me presents a complex take on that question.
The film begins one billion years in the future after life as we know it has left the now uninhabitable earth. A solitary smart buoy is floating along in one of earth’s oceans when it receives a communication from an orbiting satellite that is trying to make contact with any potential lifeforms. Upon learning that the buoy is just a machine, the satellite moves on, continuing in its mission to find life. Desperate to get the satellite’s attention, the buoy decides to pose as a living being, giving itself the simple moniker “Me,”and the satellite soon becomes “Iam.”
The buoy searches old internet data for clues on how living humans behaved and becomes entranced by Deja (Kristen Stewart, Spencer), an Instagram influencer from the 21st century who built up a following posting along with her boyfriend, Liam (Steven Yeun, Minari, Nope). Through this deception, the buoy gets the satellite’s attention and an awkward courtship begins. In their quest to connect in the digital realm, Me and Iam even create digital avatars which take the form of CGI versions of Deja and Liam. As the two artificial intelligences begin spending all of their time together, they must navigate the pitfalls of a relationship while learning to understand one another as they each become more aware of themselves.
Love Me is a surreal and visually arresting film that struggles to get past the initial feeling that it owes more than just a little to Disney-Pixar’s 2008 classic WALL·E, particularly in the first third. The buoy even sounds a bit like the Pixar protagonist when it speaks. Fortunately, the pacing and visuals manage to keep the audience engaged until the film starts to settle into its own identity, and from there it becomes an entrancing exploration of relationship dynamics, loneliness and self discovery. The screenplay, written by the film’s directors Sam and Andy Zuchero, is smart and often quite funny, easing us into the deeper elements and more melancholic aspects of the story. The themes of trying to recreate ourselves in a form that is pleasing to others plays slyly with the social media subtext, as well as with the complexities of dating.
Love Me rests heavily on the shoulders of its lead actors, and two stronger sets of shoulders would be hard to find. Stewart is mesmerizing, bringing a lovability to Me that masks a deep insecurity and even a degree of self loathing. While Me starts out with a heavily digitized voice, Yeun, a prolific voice-over actor, plays Iam from the beginning, and the gradual evolution of the character is a tour de force performance. Either one of these two incredible talents is enough to make the movie work, and their chemistry is electrifying.
Though Love Me is biting off a lot for a first feature, it’s all easy enough to swallow most of the time. At its best, the film is a moving and almost transcendent moviegoing experience that takes us an unforgettable inner journey. As an alternately depressing and hopeful mediation on existence and connection, it’s not hard to take the title at face value. There’s a lot to love here. –Patrick Gibbs