Wifelike walks a narrow path around sci-fi sleaze

Wifelike walks a narrow path around sci-fi sleaze ...

Meredith (Elena Kampouris) from the bleak new streaming film Wifelike is a fictional human that provides companions for grieving men (and apparently only men) who have lost their spouses. It's not immediately clear how much of a woman's personality can be transposed onto an artificial body.

Kampouris plays the real Meredith for a few moments throughout the film; most of the time, she inhabits the robo-companion version, with seemingly zero computer improvements to aid her performance. She only requires oddly rigid posture and body language, augmented by some makeup and overly tidy costuming, to look completely uncanny, like an action-figure replica of a well-known actress.

The appearance of Meredith and the other companions in Wifelike are precise. If only the film had made the world around them equally believable. The concept of companions is immediately muddled, from its movie-opening fake advertisement. Theyre somehow sold as both fantastically detailed sex dolls and a treatment for devastation, purposes that seem incompatible with each other. Companions aren't powerful enough to sway the violent liberation movement seen in the film.

The protestors aren't large enough to justify a fleet of FBI agents like William (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who are hired by the Wifelike organization to track down errant sex dolls like a low-rent Blade Runner. However, shes offered more as a grief treatment than as an employment benefit. Are these robo-wives exploitative sleaziness disguised as therapeutic aids?

The perversity would be the focus of a better picture. Maybe it is in this one as well; its hard to tell when Williams' obtuse case is the audience's sole consistent window into the practice of displacing companions early on. Meredith does have a funny moment to herself when exploring the possibility of self-pleasure.

Meredith begins out in the third person, but this is a strange programming ability for such a vastly advanced system.

Meredith must file a waiver in order to get William some health-threatening bacon, but sometimes Meredith needs to be taught terms that a computer would probably be able to comprehend easily? For either a grieving widower or a horny loser, the film itself may be unsure about the exact steps and whys of forming companions.

Meredith's awareness grew as she became drawn into the conflict between the Williams company and the anti-companion forces, uncovering hidden secrets, hidden memories, and so on. After 30 minutes or so, Wifelike resumes with the sinking feeling that writer-director James Bird intends to peel back layers of male decorousness to reveal the entitlement and control underneath. But these qualities are equally apparent as the skimpy lingerie that the companions all seem to have on hand as accessories.

Wifelike excavates some barely concealed subtext and proudly lays it out as text: Men subjugate women, and if their attempts to do that are thwarted, theyll invent new women to subjugate some more. There are moments when the movie appears ready to provocatively recast grief and loneliness as catch-all excuses for male misdeeds, but Bird backs away from it by not including any major characters who are truly grieving.

Kampouris is open to either a more shady B-movie or a reflective sci-fi chamber piece, whether its attempting to escape a cloistered domestic life or navigating through a dreamscape that functions as a virtual reality. It's the low-rent cop-movie-level material with William and his co-worker buddy Jack (Doron Bell) that ultimately pushes Wifelike past the point of no return, into its own bizarre valley.

Wifelike will be available for streaming on Amazon, Vudu, and other digital rental and purchase platforms on August 12 in a limited theatrical release.