By Alex McPherson

Director Maria Schrader’s sci-fi dramedy, “I’m Your Man,” presents multifaceted questions about love, humanity, happiness, and loneliness in a time when technology molds to fit our every need.

Based on a short story by Emma Braslavsky, the film centers around Alma (Maren Eggert), an anthropologist working for the Pergamon museum in Berlin, studying Sumerian cuneiform tablets for traces of poetry. She’s a closed-off workaholic leading a mundane life — getting along well with co-workers, but holding deeper sadness and resistance to anything resembling romance. In exchange for more funding for her research, Alma reluctantly agrees to participate in a three-week-long study where she’s paired with a humanoid “man of her dreams” named Tom (Dan Stevens).

This android is calibrated to match her personality and adapt over time in accordance with Alma’s reactions. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go smoothly at the beginning. From the moment Tom speaks the phrase, “Your eyes are like two mountain lakes I could sink into,” Alma isn’t impressed.

As the days go on, however, Tom grows more sensitive, relatable, and attractive to her. Alma slowly but surely starts falling for him, while simultaneously regretting her burgeoning feelings, and ends up confronting the roots of her melancholy. 

Although this android might develop like a person would, is Alma’s love authentic, or purely artificial? What is Alma willing to sacrifice to achieve satisfaction in a relationship, and should humanoids like Tom be available to the public in an increasingly isolated world? Schrader doesn’t opt for easy, convenient answers — which renders “I’m Your Man” a more contemplative watch than viewers might expect.

In large part, thanks to Alma’s complexity as a protagonist and Stevens’ poignant, drolly humorous performance as Tom, the film soars in both moments of light-heartedness and serious drama, with a story ripe for discussion once the credits roll.

Indeed, “I’m Your Man” isn’t so much a conventional science-fiction story as it is an exploration of desire and the befuddling mechanics of relationships. On top of that, Schrader’s film has comedic moments sprinkled throughout — mostly involving Tom’s flawed attempts at fitting in — that lend the proceedings a certain gentleness, not exploiting the premise for crowd-pleasing cheesiness. 

Eggert’s masterful performance conveys Alma’s yearning, resentment, joy, grief, and emotional growth in a way that ensures we always empathize with her as she navigates morally fraught waters.

The script — co-written by Schrader and Jan Schomburg — gives credence to multiple, contrasting perspectives regarding her situation, and encourages viewers to ponder some of the same topics themselves in their own lives. Does the end goal of true happiness justify the means, and is the pursuit of happiness something that makes us human to begin with?

Stevens, while giving a less naturalistic performance, is absolutely outstanding as Tom. For all his robotic, stilted movements and occasional cluelessness, Stevens imbues him with a tangible soul nonetheless, as he learns and evolves from his experiences. He veers further from his robotic roots into someone approaching a human, as well as a mirror for Alma to explore her own flaws and potential for change.

Funny, cathartic, and bittersweet, this intelligent love story rarely falters. The film’s slow pace is guided along by Benedict Neuenfels’ crisp, eye-popping cinematography — initially framing Alma behind glass, looking outside with her manufactured reflection standing beside her — and Tobias Wagner’s jazz-inflected score that becomes rather haunting by the final act. Some viewers might be frustrated by the plot’s low-key rhythms and somewhat ambiguous ending, but as a meditation on a plausible near-future, “I’m Your Man” whirs with life.

Dan Stevens and Sandra Huller

“I’m Your Man” is a science fiction romantic comedy that is in German with English subtitles. Directed by Maria Schrader, it stars Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens and Sandra Huller. Rated R for some sexual content and language throughout, the runtime is 1 hour, 45 minutes. It is in theatres Oct. 1 and digitally Oct. 12. Alex’s Grade: A.

By Alex McPherson

Studio Ghibli’s latest project, “Earwig and the Witch,” is a bland film lacking depth and imagination.

The story, based on Diana Wynne Jones’ book, follows Earwig (Taylor Paige Henderson), a young girl living in an orphanage in the British countryside. As a baby, she was abandoned by her mother (Kacey Musgraves), a witch fleeing powerful forces seeking her demise. Earwig, quite a bubbly individual, is content living there with her pal, Custard (Logan Hannon), and has zero interest in moving away.

Her fortunes change when she’s adopted by an imposing, scraggly haired witch named Bella Yaga (Vanessa Marshall) and her spindly, short-tempered husband named Mandrake (Richard E. Grant). Earwig becomes Yaga’s servant — mopping floors and preparing ingredients for her potions. She soon befriends a talking cat named Thomas (Dan Stevens). “Coraline,” much? As the days pass by, Earwig is trapped within this toxic household, unless she can find a way out.

Before all else, dear readers, we must address the film’s controversial animation style. Eschewing the hand-drawn techniques typical of other Studio Ghibli films, “Earwig and the Witch” relies entirely on computer-generated imagery. As a result, environments are rendered with striking attention to detail, but characters’ facial expressions lack nuance, leaving them lifeless and difficult to latch onto. Similarly, characters bluntly explain what they’re feeling at any given moment, perhaps attempting to compensate for their doll-like appearances. 

Director Goro Miyasaki (the son of legendary director Hayao Miyasaki) should be commended for breaking from tradition, I suppose. Regardless of the animation, “Earwig and the Witch” still ends up being a rather stale affair.

Unfortunately, Earwig remains irritating from start to finish. She’s fearless and perpetually optimistic. Miyazaki effectively juxtaposes her initial freedom with the repressiveness of her new environment, but she fails to grow in any meaningful way over the course of the film. Ironically, the life lessons we’re force-fed later on don’t apply to Earwig herself.

As she investigates her surroundings, the pacing slows to a crawl. Indeed, “Earwig and the Witch” extends the dullest aspects of her predicament to fill the entire runtime, becoming repetitive and mind numbing leading up to its exposition-packed conclusion. Nothing much of importance happens, as Earwig and her feline companion (primarily relegated to comedy relief) wander around aimlessly without a clear objective. Shouldn’t they want to escape? There’s no driving force to this plot, and little preventing me from watching something else.

Everything changes in the last 15 minutes, however. We’re bombarded with backstory that’s far more compelling than anything Earwig’s involved in, a sad reminder of the film that could have been. Additionally, the visuals stay frustratingly limited until the finale — providing fleeting moments of spectacle that the film should have embraced more consistently. Familiar themes are broached, including music’s communal power, but little stands out, and the end credits sequence leaves more emotional impact than anything in the main plot. 

At least the voice cast does an acceptable job with what they’re given. Grant stands out in particular, conveying Mandrake’s grumbling, volatile demeanor in an intimidating fashion.

Small children might enjoy the film’s simplistic narrative and cutesy, occasionally spooky vibes, but everyone else should steer clear and (re)watch “Coraline” instead. It pains me to write this, as a Studio Ghibli fan, but “Earwig and the Witch” just feels pointless.

“Earwig and the Witch” is an animated fantasy adventure film directed by Goro Miyasaki. It is rated PG for some scary images and rude material and run time is 1 hour, 22 minutes. Alex’s Rating: C-