It’s hard to say what’s more impressive: That a married filmmaking duo made a romantic drama that covers 13.7 billion years and climaxes with a buoy fucking a satellite, or that Sam and Andy Zuchero’s debut feature — a tedious movie that gradually squanders all of the goodwill earned by the creative ambition behind it — somehow manages to feel trite and predictable in spite of that premise.
As much as I respect the chutzpah required to jump directly from short films to what might be the longest-spanning love story ever told, time ironically proves to be the undoing of a movie about two star-crossed pieces of metal who can’t even feel it pass. Their struggle to keep things interesting for several million millennia reflects the Zucheros’ struggle to keep things interesting for 92 minutes, as “Love Me” — not unlike the zombie relationship it follows to infinity and beyond — quickly begins to lose its reason for being once it outgrows the big idea at its core.
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As Charlie Kaufman might say: We open at the beginning of time. The Earth erupts from a floating mass of colorless metal and begins to spin forward at the proverbial speed of light, going from a billion years ago to the 21st century in a matter of seconds. We see how briefly human civilization was alive during that span, and we reflect on how important it seemed to us at the time. It all goes poof! In 2027, when an unspecified extinction-level-event (or E.L.E., as “Deep Impact” fans might refer to it) wipes us off the map, leaving only our inventions behind.
One of those inventions is an AI-powered buoy that continues to bob up and down in the water near where Manhattan used to be. After a hundred years of solitude — or possibly a lot more — it catches the eye of a friendly satellite that keeps doing laps around the planet in the event that any extraterrestrial tourists have questions about who used to live there (questions it is ready and willing to answer in the voice of Steven Yeun). It takes a decade or so for the desperate buoy to catfish the satellite into thinking it’s a lifeform, but it eventually pulls that off by stealing the identity of a long-dead influencer it finds on Instagram: A “creator/wife” named Deja and played by Kristen Stewart. The buoy, whose fumbling sense of self leads it to identify as “Me,” uses Deja’s photos to create an Instagram profile for itself, and invites the satellite — who it dubs “Iam” — to follow her back. Iam does as it’s told, unknowingly adopting the role and avatar of Deja’s husband and reluctant partner-in-content creation (played by Steven Yeun). Thus begins the last courtship on Earth.
These early scenes, in which Me and Iam volley cute YouTube videos and AI-generated memes at each other in a strangely endearing bid for connection, are clever and amusing enough to survive their attendant tweeness. Both the buoy and the satellite are built with real personality (credit belongs to Laird FX for their expressive, camera-like designs), and further brought to life by dynamic voice performances from the film’s only two actors; Stewart lends Me a sad and restless need for love, while Yeun endows Iam with a go-along guilelessness that allows him to mine layers of emotion from just the way he says “OK.” It’s fun to hear these characters flirt so badly with each other, and the “‘WALL-E’ meets Don Hertzfeld” of it all is a strong vehicle for some light commentary on the way that we all strain for common ground online.
Of course, it’s only a matter of time before Me convinces Iam to meet IRL, or as IRL as things can get between an aquatic capsule and an orbital spacecraft; in this case, that means watching Stewart and Yeun’s Memojis share a virtual reality space modeled after Deja and her husband’s influencer-basic apartment, where the two avatars obsessively re-create the human couple’s nauseatingly performative videos — ring lights and all. The bad news is that influencers are the last traces of the human race. The good news is that anyone who catches Me and Iam’s broadcast will assume that we were all really hot.
Of course, it goes without saying that Me and Iam don’t actually have an audience (the former is doomed to spend eternity waiting for even a single “like,” which is a fitting end to our species), but they also don’t have any other model to follow. For all of our frantic hyperventilating about the future of AI, the truth is that AI as we know it can’t ever be real, as they’ll always be echoes of the people who provided the data for their algorithms. Me seems dimly aware of this fact, as she forces Iam to repeat Deja and her husband’s hellish “date night” video so many times that it feels like the satellite is trapped in purgatory with David Fincher. At least the piano score provided by Dirty Projectors’ frontman David Longstreth adds a dose of humanity.
What at first seems like a natural way to iterate upon the first act’s unusual meet-cute soon unravels into a vague — and extremely tedious — meditation on the disconnect between our true selves and the identities we perform for each other, as Me and Iam, which sounds more and more like a bad Abbott and Costello routine, just go around in circles trying to find the center of a maze that doesn’t exist. The situation is a deeply unhelpful conduit through which to explore the layers of artifice baked into human interaction circa 2024, and the glancing observation that Iam — an emotionally dumb repository for all of the world’s information — knows everything and nothing at the same time is just far too facile to sustain 30 minutes of high-concept psychodrama. “Love Me” seems to think that Me and Iam are discovering what it means to be alive and in love, but really they’re just discovering what it feels like to be stuck on social media without an audience. Most people don’t need to see a movie to know what that feels like.
Things finally threaten to get a little bit more interesting when Me and Iam’s animated avatars are replaced by Stewart and Yeun (you have to roll with the “Matrix”-adjacent idea that the characters are constantly getting better at learning how to update and manipulate their environment), as the Zucheros seize on the opportunity to take some unexpected swings as they grasp about for something to give their story a greater purpose or a stronger emotional foundation. Stewart and Yeun are certainly game to help out, as the actors both hurl themselves head-first into a scenario that comes off like a Charlie Kaufman bit written by ChatGPT.
Their curiosity and eagerness is betrayed by a film that has too much of one and none of the other, as “Love Me” descends into a brain-frying screaming match where its characters just shout things like “I am! No, you are!” until it starts to feel like you’re watching a procedurally generated perfume commercial start to glitch out. By the time the movie arrives at its broadly sweet but emotionally hollow final scene, it seems clear that the Zucheros want the audience to feel everything, but all I felt was nothing.
“Love Me” premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.
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