Movies

Sundance movie review: In 'Love Me,' Kristen Stewart, Steven Yeun make AI emotional

By Fred Topel   |   Updated Jan. 19, 2024 at 8:40 PM
Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun star in "Love Me." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute Sam (L) and Andy Zuchero wrote and directed "Love Me." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute kristen Stewart (L) stars in "Love Me." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI Kristen Stewart plays an Instagram influencer who inspires a sentient buoy's personality. File Photo by Rune Hellestad/ UPI Steven Yeun stars in "Love Me." Photo by Chris Chew/UPI

PARK CITY, Utah, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Love Me, which premiered Friday at the Sundance Film Festival, is an ambitious new take on artificial intelligence. Writer/directors Sam and Andy Zuchero blend animation and live action to effectively portray evolving machines.

In the 26th century, a Smart Buoy awakens frozen in the ocean. A satellite orbits the Earth, calling out to any survivors.

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The satellite's initial question is: Are there any life forms? So the buoy needs to figure out what she is. Through the satellite's archive of Earth, she learns smart buoys were invented in 2025 with artificial intelligence.

The buoy finds the Instagram of Deja (Kristen Stewart) and assumes her image and voice. She also suggests Deja's husband Liam (Steven Yeun) for the satellite.

Much of the beginning of Love Me depicts this relationship with physical animatronics of a buoy on the desolate Earth and satellite in space. The Zucheros personify the objects by manipulating the subtleties of their lights and lenses, with sounds whirring and whizzing.

As the buoy and satellite evolve, they create a virtual space where they act out as animated forms of Deja and Liam. They eventually become live-action, but still cut back to the buoy on earth and satellite in space to remind the viewer what the animated or live action visuals are representing.

The buoy is more advanced than the satellite to begin with because she is already programmed to think and learn. As the satellite tries to develop a personality he gets frustrated that the buoy just wants to recreate Deja and Liam's life.

This is true of people figuring themselves out too. Even AI struggles to find its own identity and relies on outside influences to fill the gaps.

These newly formed egos are very fragile. If the buoy doesn't like one of satellite's jokes he thinks she doesn't like him anymore. Likewise, the buoy takes it really personally when the satellite says no to more simulations.

That's human too. We can't seem to separate "I don't like this one thing you do" from "I don't like you at all." According to this movie, technology won't be able to ease that either.

Machines becoming human is a common story in science fiction. Isaac Asimov wrote about it, movies like Terminator 2 and A.I. dealt with it, as did the character Data on Star Trek.

Those are usually humans looking at AI evolving. Love Me conveys what it might look like from the AI's perspective, using montages of computer screens and the puppeteering, animation and live-action combination.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.