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Young Goethe in Love (Music Box Films, NR)

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film young-goethe_smWhere everyone knows Shakespeare and can hop right on board with Shakespeare in Love, how many people are going to be rushing to the theater to see this on account of being interested in Johann Goethe?

 

 

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Young Goethe in Love, an alumnus of SLIFF 2011, is the new German biopic of Johann Goethe, the author of the classic work of fiction The Sorrows of Young Werther. If this simple premise (and title) remind you at least vaguely of Shakespeare in Love, that’s surely intentional, at least on the distributor’s part if not the filmmakers’. (I prefer the original German title Goethe!—I’m a sucker for exclamation points.)

Goethe is played by Alexander Fehling, who you might recognize as Wilhelm from the basement bar scene in Inglourious Basterds. He’s agreeable enough as a star, as are the two other leads, Miriam Stein and Moritz Bleibtreu, the former being Goethe’s love interest Lotte and the latter being Judge Kestner, his rival for Lotte’s affections. Bleibtreu is a familiar enough face to American audiences as well, if only for his role as Manni in 1998’s Run Lola Run, and while Stein is lesser known, she is definitely pretty. And that’s kind of the overall notion of Young Goethe in Love: Take an archetypal story about an important author, put a few familiar faces in the lead roles, make the overall production blandly pretty, and keep it as inoffensive as possible. It’s not a bad formula for a movie, perhaps, but you’ve also seen it a million times before.

To be a little more specific, if you’re not familiar with Goethe or The Sorrows of Young Werther, Goethe was floating around in late 1700s Germany and was a failing poet until he broke through with the aforementioned autobiographical novel at the age of 25. The film focuses on the period just before the writing of the novel and ends around the time of its release, as that’s of course the most cinematic period of Goethe’s life: He’s young and pretty and finds his muse, all the stuff of many great films that have come before.

Although agreeable enough, I can’t help but wish that Young Goethe in Love were a smarter film. If you are fascinated by German culture or want to see a piece of fluff about Romanticism, you’ll have a good enough time, but I feel like at this point most people with a vested interest in Goethe are probably well educated and could do with a more difficult and/or artistic film on the subject. And I don’t mean to criticize Young Goethe for being accessible, but where everyone knows Shakespeare and can hop right on board with Shakespeare in Love, how many people are going to be rushing to the theater to see this on account of being interested in Goethe? Surely some, but nowhere near Shakespeare levels. And it is this type of person I’m worried will be wasting their time with this movie. Seeing it might turn the uninitiated onto reading The Sorrows of Young Werther, but if you’ve already read it and are looking for some good historical detail and context, you’re going to be left out in the cold. | Pete Timmermann

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