Ah, a robo-romance. Not sure if this is a new genre, but I certainly fell in love.
It made me think of when I was watching the disappointing Spielberg movie A.I. The only thing I liked was Jude Law as Gigolo Joe.
Ex Machina was one of my favorite movies of 2014 and watching Domhnall Gleeson fall for a robotic Alicia Vikander was terrific.
And, while I liked the Spike Jonez film Her the year before, it was a tad overrated, and I never really bought that Joaquin Phoenix would have fallen for his electronic device (after all, it wasn’t a robot of Scarlett Johansson, merely her voice).
So while this movie might not be the most original concept in the world, it was so brilliantly executed on every level, that my wife and I loved it. They didn’t go for the cliche fish out of water jokes. And the subtle humor they had worked wonderfully. I’m thinking of a scene where the robot goes into a Starbucks and orders a hazelnut cappuccino and said he ordered it because he feels “a little nutty.” The barista just looks at him and his dad joke, without even a hint of a smile.
Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) is so perfectly cast as a robot. At first, I thought the goofy look on his face would be his only expression, and wondered if this whole concept would even work. Especially for an academic in her 40s, who already has reservations about this whole thing. But what takes it to another level is Maren Eggert playing Alma. She’s cute, but not drop dead gorgeous, which works so much better for this story of an intelligent woman who has been hurt in life. She thinks this whole idea is idiotic but agrees to be part of the test group because it will bring in funds for her research. And while we can all guess that she’ll probably start to fall for this replicant, what we can’t guess is just how moving and thought-provoking this experience will be. A lesser filmmaker would have had them having sex, and her smoking a cigarette in bliss afterwards, or her showing up at her ex-husband’s party and the robot beating up her old flame and humiliating him. But what writer/director Maria Schrader gave us is so much more special for the subtle touches in which she warms our hearts, or gut punches us. That even comes in the form of the supporting players. Sandra Huller runs this robotics company with a slightly sunny and also stoic nature that is perfect. The ex-husband, played by Hans Low, isn’t some evil jerk we just hate; but every time we see his face, we know we don’t like him for how his relationship ended with Alma (even though we know nothing about how it ended).
This robot knows poetry, can cut a rug, and make a wonderful brunch -- but his compliments leave a lot to be desired. And his programming doesn’t really let him realize that...telling a woman a better/safer way to drive, probably won’t endear you to her. Any man over the age of 20 will tell you that. But the dude is quick on the uptake. Instead of cleaning up her place and making it hard for her to find her papers the next day, perhaps when she’s in a drunken tizzy and yelling at him -- he’ll leave the mess for her the next day. Well played, robot man!
And, the only other time I can remember a man walking away from a woman that wants to have sex -- was as a senior in high school watching Top Gun, and Tom Cruise gets up to tell Kelly McGillis he’s going to take a shower. As she smiles with anticipation, he thanks her for dinner, jumps on his motorcycle, and leaves. How the scene is done in this movie -- again, I can’t thank Schrader enough. Here’s a woman that was an actress and is now directing/writing -- and she’s knocking it out of the park.
As a kid, when I was watching Mork & Mindy, I laughed at how the female human had to deal with an alien that was learning everything about humans (it helped that Robin Williams played that alien). And again, instead of this film following those tropes, it was much more interesting having this straight man deal with her wrath, and her being smart enough to realize later what kind of person she actually is. Even she realizes the absurdity of it all as she’s apologizing the next day -- TO A ROBOT!
This film is Germany’s entry to the Oscars for “best foreign film” and for my money -- it should win the award. It’s one of my favorite movies of the year, and my wife and I not only loved it, we spent some time afterwards discussing the philosophical questions it brings to the table.
And as much as my wife was loving this humanoid dude, I wanted to use a line I saw as a kid in the animated movie Heavy Metal (1981)-- “Yeah, he’s the perfect guy, until you come home and he’s having sex with the toaster.”
4 stars out of 5, and it’s only playing in Hillcrest and at the Angelika Film Center, my favorite theatre in town. Go see it.