It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
People really do have jobs and they work all day at them and sometimes all night, and have to work so hard at them that their romantic life suffers. Those would be real people. People in the movies have so much free time that their lives are available for the requirements of movie formulas. They get crazy in love. Real people, on the other hand, look at a potential lover and decide they'd have to be crazy to take a chance on someone like that. Start with two people who think that way and you're describing most of the relationships we really do have. In one way or another, "Dopamine" is about us.
You may not be Rand, trapped in a room with two other guys 20 hours a day, living on coffee and creating a digital pet named Koy-Koy. You may not be Sarah, a pre-school teacher who sometimes goes to a bar simply because she wants to get laid, and the next morning, when she looks at her prize, she just wants to get out of there and go home. But such details will seem more realistic to you than the romantic comedies of Meg Ryan, which is why Meg Ryan's adventures are so popular: They're about what you're looking for the night before, not what you end up with the morning after.
"Dopamine," written and directed by Mark Decena, is about imperfect people who talk a lot, are smart, have big defenses and have been burned more than once by love. Since Sarah sleeps with a guy on the first date, it may not seem like she has such big defenses, but she does; her defenses are against having the second date. And Rand is so wounded he invests his own emotions in a pathetic little animated bird who is programmed to get to know him. It's all right to be pleased that the bird recognizes you, but sad to feel good because the bird likes you. The bird doesn't really like you. The bird is just some code.
Rand is renting his life to people who want to buy a corrupt version of what he loves to do. He loves artificial intelligence. They want Koy-Koy, which they can sell to the children of the world, robbing them of trees and dogs. Rand hates the people but loves the work. The people want to test-market his program in a pre-school. What's this? He's spent three years in a room writing this code, and now 5-year-olds are going to criticize it? Rand (John Livingston) goes to the classroom and meets the teacher, Sarah (Sabrina Lloyd). Oh, there's no doubt they're meant for each other. They look at each other and each person's empty spaces are the same size as the other person's full spaces. But Rand has issues with women. That's why he's so hung up on programming a girlfriend for Koy Koy: Safer to fix up Koy-Koy than get fixed up himself. Loneliness is so much less troublesome than this emotional mine field.