Love can blossom in the most unlikely of places. In Love Me, that place happens to be after humanity is all but gone. The lovers? A buoy (Kristen Stewart) and a satellite (Steven Yeun). It’s a head scratcher of a concept. Perfect, naturally, for the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, although heavily dependent on its execution. Husband-and-wife directing team Andy Zuchero and Sam Zuchero certainly have the makings of a great concept. The question is- does this concept translate well into a feature film?
The answer is not so simple. Love Me oscillates through notable highs and baffling lows. The originality stands out, for sure. Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun do respectable work in hybrid voice/live-action roles. Some visuals took my breath away, full stop. As Love Me goes on, however, the engine of the story begins to sputter.
The integration of garish metaverse-style animation and underlying themes that compete for screen time often cloud the parts that really work. It’s hard to determine whether or not the first feature by The Zucheros works. As always, duty calls. It’s time to properly evaluate how Love Me stacks up to the sum of its parts.
Buoy meets satellite in Love Me
In the middle of the ocean, following an apocalyptic event, a buoy sits alone. One day, the buoy spots a satellite. The two establish a rudimentary communication, where the buoy claims to be intelligent life. Their friendship blossoms into a romance as the two adopt avatars based around a popular influencer couple from before the world died.
Kristen Stewart plays the buoy’s avatar, Steven Yeun the satellite. Complications arise as the two learn what it is to love and, more frighteningly, how to be one’s self after having no concept of personhood.
The story of Love Me flows well enough. The early sections, of a lonely machine drifting in the ocean, evoke a haunting beauty in isolation. Watching the buoy that spent its whole life alone wait patiently for the blink of the satellite to come back around each day, stirs feelings of longing. Cinematographer Germain McMicking does a commendable job of visual storytelling. Just by how he frames these man-made devices, they’re instilled with life and human emotion.
Major points are earned by ambition. The process of coming to terms life and love is portrayed in a fittingly messy fashion. Moreover, the narrative conceit of the story taking place over centuries upon centuries adds an extra wrinkle to Love Me’s charm.
Dialogue wise, the script by Sam and Andy Zuchero lends a recognizable human element, relatable to both couples and those who have struggled with their place in this world. The running theme of wanting to be your best self based on what influencers portray is a timely one as well. I can’t say in good conscience that Love Me really nails this, sadly.
The Zucheros juggle too much
Major points are earned by ambition. The process of coming to terms with life and love is portrayed in a fittingly messy fashion. Moreover, the narrative conceit of the story taking place over centuries upon centuries adds an extra wrinkle to Love Me’s charm. Dialogue wise, the script by Sam and Andy Zuchero lends a recognizable human element, relatable to both couples and those who have struggled with their place in this world. The running theme of wanting to be your best self based on what influencers portray is a timely one as well. I can’t say in good conscience that Love Me really nails this, sadly.
As a story of romance, Love Me charms. As a meditation of self-love, Love Me mostly works. As a critique on our digital selves, it gives us a lot to chew on. The problem is that these are put into the blender, then stretched out far past its natural length. At times, Sam and Andy Zuchero seem as if they’re writing a disorganized essay rather than building out a clear, concise arc for our leads.
It’s a shame, really, because the questions regarding the nature of personhood/relationships are potent ones. The problem is: You have answers to those questions. Look, I’m not expecting Love Me or its creators to have all the answers, but there needs to be a point of view.
Worse yet, Sam and Andy Zuchero slow the movie to a crawl whenever the buoy and satellite actualize themselves in an animated environment. Think metaverse or other VR chat. Their bargain bin Pixar animated avatars are in a bizarre middle ground between emoting and looking like digital puppets. Love Me goes headfirst into the uncanny valley. A more interesting movie would use this effect to its advantage.
This one, courtesy of the voice performances, treats it as just one step below true personhood. There’s little to no difference between the characters’ actualization in the animated realm versus their eventual transformation into live action beings. It makes me wonder why not just skip straight ahead to the live action stuff then?
Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun shine in Love Me
The true saving grace of Love Me’s too lofty ambition is that Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun are wonderful in it. As the influencers Deja (Stewart) and Liam (Yeun), they’re pulled directly from what’s on YouTube in terms of “family content”. When it comes to portraying the buoy, Me, Kristen Stewart is mesmerizing. At first hopeful and excited by the prospect of becoming aware of itself, Me devolves into having a complete crisis of identity that Stewart conveys with heartbreaking realism.
Steven Yeun as Iam is simply endearing. He is pulled out of his own Matrix, so to speak, by Me. Yeun portrays Iam’s confusion, fear, excitement, and ultimate actualization in a way that takes the audience along for the ride in his self-discovery. He’s the representation of the movie’s biggest virtues.
It’s a real shame that, at the end of the day, Love Me doesn’t hang together as a feature. As a short film, its shotgun approach to tackling so many different themes and experimenting with various forms of media might’ve killed. In a feature, it feels way too much of a proof of a concept to be a compelling narrative. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam and Andy Zuchero made a great film in the future. Love Me, as it stands, is too messy a debut to really show what they can do.
Love Me currently has no release date. Are you planning to watch this movie when it comes out? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. Learn more about the films shown during Sundance 2024 at the official website. You can find more of my coverage from Sundance linked below!