A cosmic love story that takes place over 13.7 billion years about a floating buoy and a satellite circling the earth, Love Me might best be described as a domestic drama in lockdown. The light, thoughtful, and occasionally repetitive debut feature from Sam and Andy Zuchero takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where humans have gone extinct. All that remains––that we know of––are two machines bobbing and floating with A.I. operating systems and a virtual database of Internet archives spanning all of human history. Without the opportunity for social interaction and physical contact, the pair tries the best it can to establish some sort of connection––to determine what that might even look and sound like. 

The premise recalls a common thought experiment: if aliens could only understand humanity through social media, how would they think about us? Would they believe that the facile, oft-scripted content plaguing Instagram and other networks was an accurate representation of our species? Love Me offers a good case study. After locking coordinates with an orbiting satellite intent on finding any extraterrestrial life form, the buoy establishes a relationship by disguising itself as Deja (Kristen Stewart), an Instagram influencer and wife it finds while scrolling videos. Soon it creates its own identity––calling itself Me––and building a profile using Deja’s posts. The satellite obliges Me’s friend request, unknowingly adopting the likeness of Deja’s husband (Steven Yeun) and calling itself Iam. 

The courtship begins with YouTube videos and harmless back-and-forths acknowledging each other’s presence. As they gain more sentience and absorb more information, their voices and vocabulary become more pronounced. It’s possible to hear Stewart’s sighing affectations even as a garbled computerized voice, and she later provides an agitated, restless tone in Me’s search for existential purpose and love. There is more restraint from Iam; Yeun reflects this effortlessly, playing with variations of certain words and phrases that make his satellite appear occasionally cold, but also willing to go along for the ride. Their flirtation offer a humorous and inviting entry point.

But the Zucheros, a married couple, have two strong actors at their disposal. Why only use their voices? Eventually, Me creates a virtual reality space for their Sims-like avatars to meet, interact, and mostly play out the short-form married-life content spread across Deja’s Instagram. Assuming the real-life couple’s connection is real and special, Me begins mimicking it, hoping their perceived love might rub off on them. Specifically, they set up their ring light and cameras in their small, indistinct apartment, making vegetable quesadillas in the kitchen, taking a bite at the couch, and giving a review. They then attempt to make each other laugh. It’s performative garbage attempted over and over to get it “right.” The exercise, too often resembling quarantine, eventually wears them down. Iam realizes something is off. 

This is Love Me‘s richest stretch, and I wish the Zucheros spent more time unpacking the way these two operating systems sense the thinness of the characters they think they’re supposed to be playing and the feelings they’re supposed to be feeling. After all, there is no audience for these videos, and therefore no need to get things perfect or promote a subscribe button. Is this a real laugh? Is this food actually good? At a certain point the performances and authentic expressions begin to get mixed. “You get to be whoever you want to be,” Deja says in one of her videos, a philosophy that Me eventually struggles to comprehend, and which sends her into a depressive hibernation. 

To diversify their visual palette, eventually Me and Iam develop into their lifelike, human Stewart and Yeun forms, the unexplained (but likely final) progression of their sentience. In this rapid development, which allows them to turn the apartment into something more dynamic and specific, they engage in a stripping-down process, effectively trying to unlearn whatever Deja and her husband had fed them. What is a real relationship? It can’t be the one they’ve been inheriting. That’s made them confused and grow apart. The material here doesn’t have much to say otherwise, but Stewart and Yeun keep the arguments and discoveries engaging. When the couple learns how to manifest running water through the sink, they both get the chance to experience life for the first time. The movie’s most indelible scene might be Yeun and Stewart learning what good, clean water tastes like. 

Despite the arc of time, this isn’t the most profound or illuminating meditation on identity and authenticity. It doesn’t carry the emotional sweetness of Wall-E or the dramatic weight of Her; it feels like a short that’s been stretched to breaking point. The Zucheros, though, have found two actors capable of holding this circular parable (and circular apartment design) together. It’s because of them that this journey over millenniums is worth watching, and through them there’s a convincing case social media won’t completely warp our quest to find ourselves. 

Love Me premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

Grade: C+

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