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(The 2024 Sundance Film Festival runs January 18-28. Check out Melanie Addington’s movie review of Love Me. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Sam & Andy Zuchero debuted at Sundance 2024 with Love Me, starring Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun as a buoy and a satellite driven by A.I. as leftover human technology from the past after civilization was destroyed. Alfred P. Sloan Prize winner at this year’s festival, the technology-heavy film spends time playing with the notion of A.I. learning humanity through internet archives. 

Blending various technologies to make the movie also adds to a new sense of cinema that Sundance has leaned heavily into over the years with their early adoption of Virtual Reality and some innovative technologies during the COVID years. But much like the recent festival film The People’s Joker, this world in which hybrid no longer just means documentary mixed with narrative but rolls out in an edgier style, varying styles of animation, VR, real actors, and voice work all coming together to tell a story. 

But as that is not the takeaway of the movie, the real heart, and it is a bit on the schmaltzy side, is on absolute deconstruction of who we are as humanity, setting the film much later in the future after humans are gone while also serving as an absolute reconstruction of identity and what life is in a nutshell. The fact that the A.I. remains tied to humanity at its core because of what developed it. It’s a hopeful look at technology as essentially good like humans rather than most post-apocalyptic films that emphasize the terror and coldness of A.I.  

And isn’t that allowed in the range of future dreaming in sci-fi we are allowed sometimes? Can’t the fear as humans also be dreamt of as an opportunity to discover self? In the general current times, decolonization of every concept is emerging. People are breaking out of binary concepts and forms and finding new emotional intelligence on a large scale. 

If you step back and follow the journey of these two “life forms” as they go on their journey, you find a love letter to the sci-fi of the past that taught us our humanity by looking directly at our insecurities and facing them. It nods to Rutger Hauer’s moment in Blade Runner, to Wall-E, to even Star Trek. This idea that something different than you isn’t a person is the absolute core idea of sci-fi. In that respect, this film earned my admiration. 

The film feels authentic to relationship anarchy, The relationship style that values autonomy, anti-hierarchical practices, anti-normativity, and community interdependence. The two, as they fall in love, have to take time also to self-reflect, and do internal work to process their sense of self before they can fully acknowledge the other as they are. Being seen authentically is such a human desire that really where the A.I. buoy and satellite cross over from virtual to “real” in their relationship, it is already the end of the line for their chance on Earth, and yet through the data, this dream that time can transcend us to a new start, much like a dharmic journey. 

And as people began to talk after the film, the reviews were mixed. People either genuinely connected with it or hated it. It felt very much like a line in the sand between people doing the work to fully comprehend our experience and those who just stay shut off and pretend. 

And that is where the film is smarter than it seems as it tricks you into thinking the movie is one thing when it really is arguing for the opposite. It was really using a sci-fi setting for its absolute best work which is reminding us of the genuine gratitude for this experience we should sometimes have, even if it is a little schmaltzy. 

Growing up in a neurodivergent household like I did, this is where sci-fi teaches us we are not alone, that being a misfit and not fully comprehending basic human things is actually all part of the experience. The hint is in the opening when the entirety of human existence flies by in a mere second as we watch Earth in its many changes over time. The brief moment got a lot of laughs but on reflection, the whole core of the film is in that moment.

– Melanie Addington (@MelAddington)

2024 Sundance Film Festival; Sam & Andy Zuchero; Love Me

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Melanie Addington is the Executive Director of Tallgrass Film Association as of 2021. She has worked in the film festival world since 2006, first as a volunteer, and then eventually becoming the Oxford Film Festival Executive Director in August 2015. She used to be a reporter for the Oxford Eagle (a community newspaper) and then Pizza Magazine Quarterly (a global trade magazine). She still loves pizza. And she still writes for Hammer to Nail and Film Festival Today about her other great love: movies. She is from Southern California originally but lived in the South for 20 years. She now resides in Wichita, KS, and has one son.

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