When we first meet James and Sophie in the new film "Life Like" they are standing on a street corner, about to carry a discarded chair up to their apartment. Sophie is all about giving this piece of furniture a second life.
Later that evening, the couple gets their own second life: James' wealthy father has passed away. The news prompts the couple to move into the mansion in which James spent his childhood, and James steps into his father's sizeable shoes at the office.
The new life is a tough fit for Sophie as well. She feels guilty about having servants, and ends up dismissing them - although, in Sophie's mind, it is more like setting them free. When James learns of this, he explains that a home their size does not just run on its own (has she not seen Downton Abbey?). Like it or not, they need help.
James' colleague from work lets James in on a little secret. Before his death, James' father had been approached by a man looking for investors in his company which manufactures artificial intelligence robots. (The script never bothers to give this company a name such as "Evil Inc." or "Sexy Robot Company.") James and Sophie head over to this unnamed company to check out the latest models (and all the models do indeed look like models). Sophie doesn't want another female under her roof, because, she admits, she wants to be the prettiest girl in the room (a comment that is absolutely in line with her character).
This prompts them to choose Henry, played by Steven Strait ("The Covenant," "The Expanse"). Strait's Henry walks the halls of the couple's mansion like a modern Hal-9000 computer, but one designed by Apple: he's sleek, sexy and eager to please. What's not to like? Well, just like the Hal-9000, there is something unsettling about him, perhaps even menacing. How close to human is James? He cooks meals, plays racquetball, and analyzes "Great Expectations." He reasons, learns and applies that knowledge. But what about emotions? Does he feel intimacy, Sophie asks. "Would you like me to feel it?" James replies. She does, so he does. Is he ever afraid? He experiences something close to fear, he admits. One of his greatest concerns is that is owners will see him as obsolete and replace him. Anyone out there afraid their spouse or partner might leave them? Anybody feel as though their "intimate" relationship doesn't feel all that intimate?
I thought so.
The more intriguing relationship is the one that develops between James and Henry. When Henry walks in on James naked after a shower, James instinctively reaches for a towel. "Aren't you uncomfortable?" James asks Henry. "Do you want me to be?" Henry replies. The something shifts. Unlike Sophie, James is less troubled by any questions of the line between human being and sexy robot. To James, Henry is the same as his electric razor- he is a tool (actually, James is the real tool, but I digress). This idea gets upended a bit later, in what is the film's best scene, and one that may launch more than a few online Henry and James romantic pairing "ships," if this film ever finds a wider audience.
The film has some problems. The film's low budget occasionally gets in the way (the movie feels strangely underpopulated). It's unclear what sort of business James' father was in, or what kind of man he was. Does Sophie work? Neither James nor Sophie thinks to google information about Julian, the man who runs the robot program. Watching James and Sophie sorting out the mystery of these lifelike robots might have given the story a nice bit of suspense. The film does not quite build to its ending. There is also a weak link or two in the acting department.
But the film is worth a look for Strait's performance, and some of the interesting questions that it raises.
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