Review of “Love Me”: Robot Love Rom Com in which Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun gazed longingly into each other’s AIs

 

A brilliantly crafted, if excessively intricate, science fiction tale about how people place unjust expectations on romantic partnerships, Sam and Andy Zuchero’s bold love story shines most when its human leads are on screen.

 

 

Deceptively busy Sundance novelty “Love Me” is, at its most literal, about the relationship between a satellite orbiting the planet and a buoy drifting at sea. In the quirky cosmic romantic comedy by Sam and Andy Zuchero, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the only sources of information for the machines that survive are a vast amount of data gathered from social media and search engines. Viewers have the option to cheer for the two gadgets or immerse themselves in this most unusual love story to the fullest by projecting themselves onto AI characters played (in different avatars) by Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun.

Even though those two stars are only portraying idealised avatars for two machines, they nonetheless create a very alluring screen couple thanks to their beauty and complexity. Although the film by Zucheros is bold and inventive, it also has some of the same problems with ADHD as “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (both are designed for multitaskers whose brains are built for continually switching between displays). Here, we are far from the grace of “Casablanca” or Spike Jonze’s “Her,” with its comparatively simple style.

Though the idea that all robots secretly yearn to be human is a sci-fi cliché, in this instance, the two Self-Monitoring Analysing and Revision Technology machines play out what it means to be a couple over the course of roughly an aeon, allowing viewers to project whatever emotions they choose onto Stewart and Yeun’s evolving on-screen personas. The video begins with the extinction event that leaves the SB350 Smart Buoy stranded off the coast of what was formerly Manhattan, speeding through a time-lapse history of the globe.

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Review of "Love Me": Robot-Love Rom-Com in which Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun gazed longingly into each other's AIs
Review of “Love Me”: Robot-Love Rom-Com in which Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun gazed longingly into each other’s AIs

This is a futuristic world that is as bit as imaginative as the one Steven Spielberg imagined in the concluding act of “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” and Zucheros wisely chose to film literally, making the floating apparatus seem genuine when we first “meet” it. The same applies to the assist satellite that is observed flying high overhead in the shape of a blue comet with a lengthy tail. Since visual effects take centre stage in the middle of the movie, Laird FX constructed it to scale in close-up.

Though neither appears very human, one has a lens and the other is made up of solar panels. Considering that Wall-E and Eve have eyes and limbs, in addition to Pixar animators striving to humanise their expressions throughout, that’s a daring design decision. “Love Me” is overly dependent on humour and makes lighthearted jabs at 2024 internet culture. Despite their cutesiness, the Zucheros refuse to rely on it, letting their adult (or young adult) imaginations do the most of the job.

Both the satellite, renamed “Iam,” and the buoy, calling themselves me.life.form (or simply “Me”), are initially blank-slate artificial intelligence systems. While Iam has been programmed to connect with any life-form that remains on the planet that was once home to humans, my instructions are to find a connection. And so they do, however everything begins with a lie: To establish the relationship, I must pretend to be a life form even if I am not one. It wouldn’t be a stretch to compare Me’s untruth to the small white lies people say to each other when they first meet, whether it be in person or online – embellishments meant to make oneself appear more appealing, approachable, or normal than one actually is.

After Me and Iam establish a connection, the Zucheros offer a virtual environment in which the remainder of their interactions can take place. This environment consists of a basic VR flat modelled after an influencer couple named Deja and Liam (played by Stewart and Yeun) that Me sees on her Instagram page. I adopt Deja’s identity and pass it off as my own, launching a high-minded take on a dated rom-com cliché: the built-on-a-lie trope, in which one partner believes that if they tell the other, the relationship will fail.

Early on, Me obsesses over “love,” which manifests itself in a variety of ways (from cuddly puppies to parent-child hugs), and I binge-watch a tonne of YouTube videos. The Zucheros are more interested in the buoy and satellite as metaphors for the human brain, specifically the way we are socialised and how different media serve to shape our expectations of marriage, motherhood, and other things. One can only imagine how perplexing human emotions might be to the AIs that outlive us.

One of Deja’s posts, “Date Night 2.0,” has me completely enamoured. In it, the pair watches “Friends,” eats quesadillas, and cuddles. That sitcom may be compared to Deja’s influencer postings in terms of contrivance and impossibility of imitation, as could most Hollywood productions of the last century. Depending on how you interpret “Love Me,” Me and Iam may not even be robots—rather, we could be substitutes for naive youths who are shown what kind of a mate to look for. (Easier to understand is the extraordinarily lengthy period of time they are apart, during which Iam gradually improves the virtual flat and becomes fixated with making water.)

When it does occur, the movie’s scene is the most captivating two minutes of screen time in the 91-minute Zucheros feature, which frequently defies conventional movie grammar as editors Joseph Krings and Salman Handy attempt to communicate unconventional ideas about love and identity. During that specific scene, Iam and I have progressed from basic Sims-style avatars to incredibly lifelike representations of Yeun and Stewart, which Me imagines to have large breasts and long hair.

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