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Sundance 2024: 'Love Me' but Not AI

Every year, the Sundance Film Festival allows filmmakers from around the world to showcase their visions to a wider audience. This year, that sentiment was captured by Andy and Sam Zuchero in their 2024 debut feature, Love Me.



Set 13.7 billion years in the future when humanity has gone extinct, Love Me opens with Earth’s sole survivor — a floating solar-powered buoy voiced by Kristen Stewart — who meets an orbiting space satellite voiced by Steven Yeun. A connection forms between the buoy and the satellite, resulting in the satellite’s entire virtual storage of the internet being transmitted into the buoy’s servers. After gaining a glimpse into humanity through montages of early internet memes and videos from the family YouTube channel “Deja and Liam” (portrayed by Stewart and Yeun), the buoy and satellite attempt to replicate human life by adopting the performed lives of Deja and Liam. Calling themselves “Me and Iam,” the buoy and satellite explore a blossoming romance while grappling with their newfound reality and subsequent “humanity.”


The premise of Love Me sounds incredibly enticing on paper, and for the first act of the film, it is. Viewers are invited to a dystopian landscape, a world drowned by high tides and its remaining soil scorched by flames, with a contrasting sense of innocent charm. Its visual effects are whimsical and the inclusion of early web content as Me and Iam sample through the archives brings a nostalgic feeling to the film. The shyness of the characters in their early interactions creates an engaging atmosphere for viewers as well, as we become enamored by whatever revelation will come from their mutual awkwardness.


Love Me feels the most like itself during these sequences. By not attempting to paint with too many strokes, the film channels a calm simplicity with the buoy idly bobbing with the waves of the sea and a pleasing score to create a warm atmosphere. Dirty Projectors’ lead singer and guitarist David Longstreth crafted the moving yet intense score. I do not know if the score was solely created with a piano, but its pianistic tones effortlessly convey every emotion the Zucheros want the viewers to feel. There is a clear cohesion present between Longstreth and the Zucheros, who also collaborated on the screenplay.


Stewart and Yeun, the only actors and characters in Love Me, further the film’s cohesiveness. The two bring a familiarity with their portrayals that makes both their established relationship (Deja and Liam) and growing connection (Me and Iam) believable. Whenever the characters are isolated from one another on screen, through the embodiment of their metallic shells, their vocal performances feel authentic; whereas, when they are together on screen, they help connect viewers with the world they inhabit.



The moment where the film begins to depart from its built-up charm, at least for me, happens once Me and Iam create their “bodies” — replicas of the real-life individuals their personality is based on. Although the creation sequence is visually and aurally appealing, it is a distinct departure from the more simplistic storytelling approach I grew to adore. Instead of primarily focusing on the relationship between Me and Iam, the film – rightfully – explores the duo’s conflicting sense of self and purpose because their only pool of reference for humanity lies within videos from a vlogging YouTube couple. This character progression feels relevant to the story, but it opts for displaying an existential melodrama that fizzles out near the end.


What encloses the narrative is a motion-captured, animated world created by Me. I have never seen a film utilize a world like it before, so it was refreshing to witness a new reality. However, the sudden thrill of fresh visuals began to diminish once the flat narrative continued to unravel.


The Zucheros are invested in exploring what it means to be “human” or “real” and current society’s relationship with social media. The two themes are handled decently well for the most part. The two characters toy with finding their true selves amidst the fabricated world created around them while I, as a viewer, began to question my relationship with social media after witnessing how Me and Iam interacted with media relics. Sure, it is an interesting take on a “possession story” — two AIs beginning to inhabit the fictional lives of real humans; however, the writing leaves a lot to be desired once the unsurprising breakdowns ensue and the ending wraps with an unceremonious conclusion.


Love Me seems like a uniquely driven sci-fi narrative upon first inspection, yet it fails to deliver a consistent, engaging experience throughout its 92-minute runtime. The film is full of huge, climatic moments that could feasibly serve as the film’s ending scene, only to snatch viewers back into the narrative and repeat similar beats. Nonetheless, the film is still creatively distinct and makes me excited to see what is in store for the Zucheros in the future.


As of February 9, Love Me has not been acquired by any distributors for a wide release.


-Trey

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