3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Romance, Foreign
Opens locally Friday, December 9th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes, Not Rated
Starring: Alexander Fehling, Miriam Stein, Moritz Bleibtreu
Directed by Philipp Stolzl (Richard Wagner, North Face, Baby)
The title Young Goethe in Love correctly summarizes this English-subtitled German film opening in limited release today. “Goethe” is referring to Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, a real person and one of the most famous German writers in history, credited as one of the geniuses of modern German literature. His best known works are Faust, and The Sorrows of Young Werther, the latter being credited as one of the world’s first “best-sellers” when it was released in 1774.
Like the similarly named Shakespeare in Love, Young Goethe in Love follows a similar pattern, where we meet Goethe (Fehling) in his youth years before making it famous. Like Shakespeare in Love, Goethe’s most famous work is inspired by the things that happen to him, and the film shows us how these experience forged him into the superstar he eventually becomes.
Doesn’t it always start with a girl? The girl in Goethe’s life in the film is young Lotte (Stein), whom he meets shortly after flunking his PhD test. The problem of course is that Lotte is set to marry another man. As Lotte and Goethe fall deeper into a forbidden romance, he gains confidence in following his dreams of being a writer, an artist, and a poet, and this propels him to write The Sorrows of Young Werther, which makes him bona fide famous.
There are some tragedies along the way that influence Goethe, but the real tragedy is how borrowed the film feels. There is not much feeling that we are experiencing anything new, just a mash-up of romance clichés from the aforementioned Shakespeare in Love to Cyrano De Bergerac. While Lotte is a beauty and Alexander Fehling plays Goethe with zest, they are trapped in a stunningly beautiful yet painfully empty romance movie.
It’s clear that the filmmaker is in love as well, with Goethe and the material. For those that do know of Johan Goethe, I’d assume that this will act as a love-letter to him, and may help broaden the scope of his audience. I’d wager that most American audiences though, are not too familiar with Goethe. This could be a problem, as many may not be inclined to know more about an 19th century German scribe. Those that do wander into the theater may feel bombarded by the familiar themes of the film, feeling like maybe they’ve seen this one before.
In either scenario, it doesn’t bode well for the film. But what Young Goethe in Love loses points for in originality, it gains a few in tone and style. It is essentially a straight-forward romance where everyone from the director to the actors to the set designers are working in passionate lock-step. It’s like a well-executed and spot-on carbon copy of a film that everybody’s already seen, which makes a lot of the effort feel frivolous.
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