Sundance 2024 Review

Love Me Is a Surprisingly Gentle Vision of the Apocalypse

Do sentient buoys dream of electric sheep?

Sundance Institute
Sundance Film Festival

When humanity is gone, what’s left? According to the gentle post-apocalyptic romance film Love Me, all that remains is a single sentient buoy floating in a vast ocean that contains the wreckage of civilization. In this undefined distant future, humanity has destroyed itself by some conflict, climate crisis, or plague; the details don’t really matter. What does matter is a weird, timid new love blooming between this sentient buoy and an orbiting satellite that contains the entire archive of human history.

Written and directed by Sam and Andy Zuchero, Love Me is a quiet little sci-fi fable that initially seems to be an overly glib Black Mirror-esque cautionary tale. In the opening minutes, we see Earth’s entire history in fast-forward, with the tiny globe forming, turning blue, then being consumed by a fiery red. Then, when the Smart Buoy (Kristen Stewart) reaches out to the Satellite (Steven Yeun), we see more of what humanity has left behind, and it’s not flattering.

The Satellite, which acts as a sort of “time capsule meets virtual assistant,” gives the Smart Buoy access to what is essentially the contemporary internet. Through it, the Smart Buoy learns about humanity, and becomes obsessed with a beautiful lifestyle influencer named Deja (also Stewart). That’s when the Smart Buoy dubs itself “Me” and shapes its image around Deja, before pressuring the Satellite to look and act like Deja’s loving husband, Liam (also Yeun).

First-time directors Sam and Andy Zuchero get the most out of Kristen Stewart’s talents.

Variety/Variety/Getty Images

Love Me’s plot feels like it was dreamed up by a terminally online film nerd raised on Pixar and YouTube videos. Much of the film’s first act plays like “What if Pixar’s WALL-E were real?” interspersed with silly memes and frenzied “history of the entire world, i guess”-style videos. It’s the kind of basic “the internet will doom us!” commentary that we’ve seen many times before, and while Love Me doesn’t touch on anything revolutionary, it does take a turn toward something much more interesting and moving.

Me and the Satellite, now dubbing himself “IAm,” try to perform at humanity after learning from the countless influencer videos and YouTube pranks that saturate the internet. They talk to a nonexistent camera, and stage date nights and Friends marathons, all via avatars that look a bit like advanced Wii characters. There’s something to be said about how the most lasting idea of what humans are will be them performing for a camera, and to see sentient machines make hollow imitations hammers home the film’s most potent commentary. But while we’ve seen enough Black Mirror episodes about the apocalyptic falseness of social media, Love Me thankfully doesn’t stick to strictly being a techno-cautionary tale.

It might be disappointing to learn that Stewart and Yeun spend most of the movie’s runtime as these digital avatars, which is a bold move by Love Me’s first-time feature filmmakers. But it’s a cutesy gimmick that threatens to get old fast, if not for Stewart and Yeun’s vocal performances lending the film its much-needed sense of humanity. Stewart, in particular, is perfectly cast as a fledgling life form.

Yeun and Stewart have a compelling connection, even when working across the digital divide.

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

As an actress, Stewart has always seemed a little surprised at her own existence, and her halting, uncertain delivery helps shape Me as an overeager, anxiety-ridden being who yearns to be as beautiful as Deja. Yeun is more unreadable and enigmatic, carrying a sort of repressed loneliness that he seems to have brought over from Beef. But he’s no less compelling as IAm, whose own ideas of humanity start to push the film over into a more surreal space.

Love Me is very much a chamber-piece movie; the only starring cast are Stewart and Yeun, and their digital selves. But it’s surprisingly successful, as Stewart and Yeun bounce off each other and show real chemistry, even across oceans and digital voids. While often falling into the trap of going for the easy “internet bad!” target, the script is elegantly structured and thought-provoking, posing questions about what love can even be if it’s between two sentient machines. And once the film finally transforms from its digital space into a real one, Love Me is flooded with color, emotion, and all the chaos of being human.

Despite the inherent cynicism in the idea that humanity’s greatest legacy will be influencer videos, Love Me slowly inches toward a profound story of how love and connection can shape a being. It’s not doing anything new, but with the help of two terrific performances, it delivers a surprisingly sweet and gentle love story of life after the apocalypse.

Love Me premiered Jan. 19 at the Sundance Film Festival.

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