Tom (Dan Stevens) is a dapper dreamboat in a slim black suit who can recite his favorite Rilke lines at will and dance the rumba; he can also translates ancient Sumerian texts and easily calculate a square root to the Nth degree. That's because Tom is a robot, and he was made for love (literally): a humanoid biogenetically engineered to please a peevish Berlin academic named Alma (Maren Eggert), if only she didn't hate everything about his unctuous AI charms.
He's also the best thing about Maria Schrader's charmingly low-key German-language romance — a movie whose bittersweet lessons on life and love feel genuinely, organically earned, even if one half of the couple it centers on was forged from ones and zeroes. That's not a subject Alma has much interest in either way when she first meets her custom-engineered match; she's only said yes to being a volunteer in a test program at her boss's behest (along with the small bribe he offers to fund her own research). How bad, she reasons, could three weeks with Tom be? It turns out he can't wait to be her man: Within hours he's sprinkling rose petals in the bathtub, making her Greek-orgy-worthy spreads for breakfast, even adjusting the tilt of her carseat by 12 degrees to reduce the probability of accidents.
He delivers all this with bright eyes and a beatific smile, assured of his success. To Alma, though, it's all artifice; she'd much prefer to be left alone to focus on her work and care for her ailing father (Wolfgang Hübsch), and she has no time and less patience for her would-be lovers' greeting-card ideas of courtship. (When he suggests getting to know each other better through light conversation, she responds crisply, "I never chat.") But as Tom's algorithm adjusts to the real world, his bionic eccentricities begin to yield to something more recognizably human, and both soon find themselves having the reevaluate the data (or is it something more ephemeral?) they've set all their calculations on.
It's gratifying to watch Eggert unpack Alma's prickly layers — the hurts in her past that have led her there, and the vulnerabilities bubbling just beneath her hard shell of self-protection — in a way so unlike most daffy American rom-com heroines. But Stevens (who either came in speaking fluent German, or learned it very quickly and very well) is a quiet revelation: The former Downton Abbey and Legion star stole his few scenes in last year's Eurovision, revealing an unexpected flair for feathered hair and full-blown camp. Here he skillfully finds the key to Tom's real unrealness: the small gestures and carefully calibrated mannerisms, the head that tilts up like a curious bird at the sound of Alma's voice. Actress-director Schrader (who also helmed Netflix's Unorthodox and starred in the hit spy-series export Deutschland 83) is too clever and melancholic to let her gentle, off-kilter Man dissolve into breezy happily-ever-afters. Instead, the movie offers something much truer to life: a love story that ends, perhaps, just when it's begun. Grade: B+