The most memorable kind of science fiction stories show us a reflection of ourselves. “Love Me,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Friday, a sci-fi romance about a buoy and a satellite does this and even has room for existential questions about humanity’s legacy in regards to the universe and what impact it will leave long after we’re gone. It’s a sweeping, sweet and unique romance that works across different mediums to deliver something thoughtful that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve.
Long after humanity’s annihilation, a buoy (Kristen Stewart) and a satellite (Steven Yeun) find each other. Their improbable romance starts with a deceptively simple question of self-reflection: “Who am I?” They give themselves new names: Me and IAm, respectively. From here on out, with no one or nothing else for company, they experiment with what it means to be real with each other. The results are something delightful and unexpected, a mixed medium mosaic of what it means to be human, but also an examination of what humanity will leave in its wake.
Me and Iam are both building their ideas of what it means to be “real” from what humanity left behind in Iam’s satellite database (a preserved record of human history, art and achievements). Me, in particular, is enraptured by the digital footprint of Deja (also played by Stewart), who was an influencer on Earth. Because of this, the buoy’s ideas of what it is to be your “self” or “real” come from a seemingly artificial place, but her desire to self-actualize is deeply felt.
For a while, this desire and ache comes through as virtual recreations of Deja’s “Date Nights,” which she documents on her YouTube channel with her husband, Ian (also Yeun). The satellite and the buoy play out these date nights over hundreds of years and the virtual sequence is rendered in animated motion capture, adding another layer of artificiality to the “reality” they’ve constructed. Eventually, like in any relationship, challenges arise and the pair need time apart to truly realize who they are.
One of the most endearing aspects of “Love Me” is its radical mixing of mediums. For the movie’s runtime we see the story of Iam and Me played out in animated mo-cap, lush film, and using practical animatronic effects to bring the buoy to life. It’s a film that’s unafraid to use the very fabric of its filmmaking to tell its story and palpably translate its emotions. We watch the pair’s romance play out in all these mediums at different phases of their relationship and it makes sense.
The film also successfully uses YouTube videos, memes and other vestiges of human life on the internet to underscore the humanity at the heart of the buoy and satellite’s relationship. When Me wants to learn about what love is, a montage of humans of all ages, from different videos culled from the internet, arise. Couples embrace, parents comfort their children, and we get a glimpse of the shared humanity we’ve created through our online presence.
It’s cerebral, existential, and sweeping, but it’s deeply romantic, too. The conflicts the buoy and satellite run into are familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a romantic relationship. Indeed, it’s the performances of Stewart and Yeun that make the love story at the heart of “Love Me” come to life. The pair bring true vulnerability to their characters through their performances. Whether they’re interacting as their respective inanimate objects, their animated reality selves, or their “real” selves, there’s an inherent fondness and energy they play off that makes their relationship all the more believable.
The performances work to bolster the smart, thoughtful writing of Sam and Andy Zuchero, which probes a lot of interesting ideas through the satellite/buoy relationship. There are ideas about the self, the self as a presentation or performance, and what it means to be vulnerable enough to show your true self to the person you’re closest to. The dialogue feels honest and true to two beings figuring out themselves and their place in the lonely universe.
That “Love Me” is their feature film debut is impressive and promising. While their influences and interests are clearly on display, from Carl Sagan to “Doctor Who,” there is still something new and exciting about everything. It’s a debut feature that lays bare a vast array of interests and a compelling voice that isn’t afraid to experiment across filmmaking mediums. It will be a treat to see what they’ll do next.
“Love Me” is a unique, lovely, experimental sci-fi romance worth spending time with. It’s a movie that’s unafraid to ask questions that make us feel both big and small, and reminds us that perhaps the most enduring legacy humanity could leave behind is as complicated a blueprint as humanity itself.
“Love Me” is a sales title at Sundance.
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