Sundance Film Festival

Spike Jonze's short film I'M HERE

Spike Jonze's short film I'M HERE.

In his feature films, Spike Jonze has successfully melded his singular sensibility with other equally distinctive voices (Charlie Kaufman in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION, Maurice Sendak and Dave Eggers in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE). But for a taste of pure, unadulterated Jonze — to really appreciate the deadpan high concepts, the absurdist melancholy, the skewed sense of enchantment — turn to his music videos and short films.

Written and directed by Jonze (and financed by Absolut Vodka), the half-hour I’M HERE, the high point of a strong opening shorts program, follows in the venerable tradition of sci-fi stories about robots who discover the contradictions of the human heart. Sheldon (Andrew Garfield) is a sad-eyed android librarian in an unfriendly Los Angeles where the robots lead an underclass existence and seem fated for a lonely obsolescence. (He and his fragile fellow bots certainly look like last century’s models: boxy heads, Lego-like appendages, protruding wires.)

But Sheldon’s life perks up when he meets free-spirited Francesca (Sienna Guillory), a robot determined to do non-robot things: drive a car, go to parties, and attend rock shows, physical consequences be damned. It’s a courtship that Jonze, as few others can, plays both for gentle laughs and with a straight face — the robots bond over their shared love of music (the soundtrack includes Animal Collective, Girls, and a few original songs by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), they get sweetly intimate (power ports are involved), and there’s even a lovers-in-nature interlude, which would be ridiculous if it weren’t so beautiful.

As it progresses, this robot romance develops both a black-comic edge and a dark psychological undertow. Love can cost an arm and a leg, and that’s just for starters. Suffice to say, I’M HERE is an open-ended but almost painfully clear-eyed romantic allegory, as much about the selfishness as the selflessness of love, the crazy things some of us give and some of us expect in the course of being part of a couple. The film’s dreamy beauty is presumably just what Jonze’s fans expected, but it lands its emotional punches with a force that will surprise quite a few.