Self-improvement seems to be the ‘thing’ of the 21st century – everywhere you look, there are self-help books telling you how you can be the best possible you. Experiences no longer just have to be fun but also ‘life-affirming’. Hobbies are no longer just for enjoyment – but to be a project or skill you’re crafting. This obsession with progression is not exclusive to our work habits or activities, but also in how we approach ourselves. Inspired by the new wave of social media encouraging us to always be striving for a better version of ourselves, Eamonn Murphy’s A Better You is a charming, romantic, and whimsical take on the modern myth of constant self-improvement and the perfect self.
Photo © A Better You
Douglas (Seán T. Ó Meallaigh) is a man living in a neo-steampunk future – a place where the slogan ‘a better you’ is plastered all over town. ‘A better you’ referring to the clone-like robots that swarm the city – a popular investment owned by over 99% of the population. Able to be fully controlled by their human owners in the comfort of their own homes, the clones are sent out into the world as surrogate workers; completing duties with 100% productivity with 0% effort required on the human’s behalf. At Douglas’ work, everyone – or their clones at least- is receiving tickets to the famed Dance Extravaganza; an invite-only ball where you must have a partner to attend. Eager to impress his work-crush Olga (Hannah Mamalis) on their date to the ball, Douglas orders himself a clone robot to take Olga out for him. However, things don’t go quite to plan for Douglas as he’s left squandered with a malfunctioning robot.
Douglas is a man obsessed with self-help books and instruction manuals, too uncertain of himself to believe his own gut instincts and personality are enough for his date with Olga. Instead, he resorts to programming his robot to the perfect settings; 70% romance, 60% dance, 50% charm – an exact algorithm impossible for any actual human to keep up with. Once technology fails him, Douglas is left to handle his insecurities and deal with his unachievable desire for perfection and control.
Photo © A Better You
With a down-to-earth statement in an extreme setting, A Better You’s visual aesthetic takes a more fantasy-based approach. Alike a blend of Brazil and Amèlie, Murphy uses detailed set designs and creative VFX effects to build a world that is a unique mix of futuristic steampunk and vintage styles. Using a chirpy and sweet soundtrack to soften the horrors of imagining a world where everybody has been replaced with robots, A Better You is a dainty and dreamy tale warning us of what can happen when we take our self-image too seriously and forget who we really are.
With stand-out performances and superb set design, A Better You is an ambitious and well-crafted film. Although a little too straightforward and overt at times, Murphy’s message is a humbling and humane tale that proves that if it’s not broken, it’s best not to fix it.
Written by Abi Aherne