This initial report on Love Me comes from our team following the premieres at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. We’ll update this piece when there’s more information about the movie’s release.
On a post-apocalyptic Earth, two lingering AIs — an internet-enabled robotic buoy and an orbiting satellite (played by Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun, respectively) — forge a tentative emotional connection and start emulating their long-gone creators.
Sam and Andy Zuchero’s directorial debut is a charming oddity — a quasi love story between artificial intelligences who have to reinvent love from scratch, based on the distinctively unhelpful portrayals of it that their creators left behind. Told partially with robot models, partially with animated avatars in a shared virtual space, and partially in live action, it’s a visually and narratively inventive story packed with symbolism that touches on science fiction’s most common question, “What does it mean to be human?”
But that symbolism isn’t overbearing, and the movie could just as easily be taken as a tragicomic satire about social media, and how poorly it reflects how people actually live. As the two AIs grope toward understanding what they each want and how that relates to their relationship, they take cues from YouTube, and from one lifestyle blogger in particular (also played by Stewart), with complicated results. Like so much about the movie, the satirical aspects are funny, but they lead to fairly dark, sad places.
What’s Love Me trying to do?
Pixar fans will certainly be reminded of WALL-E in the early sequences of Love Me, as the battered, rusty terrestrial AI and its sleek, shiny spaceborne counterpart first connect and try to figure each other out, in spite of their contradictory programming. The buoy’s cute robot model, which spends the movie bobbing in water down on Earth, has a distinctly WALL-E-like forlornness: The movement and irising of her single central “eye” clearly communicate hope, longing, frustration, and embarrassment as she looks up into the sky at her distant counterpart and they beam messages back and forth. For a 90-minute movie, Love Me feels surprisingly leisurely — especially in the early going, as the two characters start establishing their own identities and feeling each other out within the various virtual spaces they create to communicate.
After that, as the buoy tries to press the two of them into a routine cribbed from her favorite YouTube influencer video, everything gets more complicated. The Zucheros’ script is surprisingly cruel and one-sided in the second and third act, with its female-coded buoy proving needy, controlling, blinkered, and fragile, compared to the more even-keeled and emotionally mature satellite. The choice to saddle these two robots with gender in the first place feels odd and not entirely necessary. The choice to then lock them into stereotypical “women are emotional and complicated, men are rational and simple” roles is even more dubious.
But the intention truly doesn’t seem to be to reinforce gender biases or denigrate Stewart’s character. Love Me appears to be trying to tell a story about emotional growth, independence, and the positives and negatives of feeling locked into a relationship with someone else. Those intentions get muddier as the story progresses from its very simple opening and its low-key hilarious second act into an ambitious, manic finale that feels strangely like an echo of Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, complete with shifting nightmare imagery and a traveling camera chasing the characters through an unpredictable environment.
Does Love Me live up to its premise?
Love Me’s mockery of the artificiality of influencer lifestyle blogging feels pretty dated — this is the kind of thing Black Mirror has been doing for going on a decade now, and it isn’t any fresher here. And the ultimate message more or less amounts to “Be yourself,” which feels like a fairly rote conclusion for such an enjoyably odd, specific movie.
That said, it’s still an impressive debut. The visual approach is clever and compelling, as the two AIs move their interactions into a virtual space, and that space keeps developing as they do. Frequent cuts back to their real bodies, each undergoing their own metamorphoses as millennia pass, pointedly remind the audience that their world — and by proxy, their entire relationship — is an artificial construct that only exists because they’ve agreed on it. It’s a potent metaphor for the way any relationship is a matter of collusion and collaboration, a kind of shared reality that can easily come apart if both participants don’t see it the same way.
And Stewart and Yeun put a real soulfulness and complexity into their characters, which is key to the entire story. Stewart’s character could easily be coded as shrill and annoying, but Stewart gives her a pathos coming from fumbled desire, and it’s more relatable than a woman playing a salinity-analyzing droid in a CG body has any right to be.
The quote that says it all
“I am… life form!” When the buoy first comes back online, she has very little sense of language or self. But when she makes contact with the satellite and discovers he’s only programmed to interact with life forms — which she, as a robot, technically is not — she fumbles for a solution that will get his attention and focus. She figures out how to form a sentence, and in the same breath, how to lie to the only other intelligent being in her world. It’s a breakthrough moment for her that also painfully foreshadows a lot of their interactions to come.
Most memeable moment
In one moment of existential despair, the buoy flops onto its back and lets herself slowly sink into the water, like Homer Simpson backing into the hedge. It’s a simultaneously tragic and hilariously melodramatic moment, made for gifs and “hard same, my buoy friend, hard same” memes.
Is Love Me good?
Love Me feels like it could have used another draft or two of the script, to more carefully balance the characters and story, and make its themes a little richer. But it’s a daringly weird debut, executed with real style and vision. It’s an oddity that’s bound to appeal to fans of similarly strange high-concept love stories, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
When can we see it?
Love Me is currently seeking a distributor. Polygon will update this coverage when a platform and release date is set.