Oh Boy (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner17/01/2014

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 85 mins

Beautifully shot, sharply written and engagingly performed, this is an enjoyable German slacker comedy that recalls both Manhattan-era Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach's recent Frances Ha.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Jan-Ole Gerster (making his debut), Oh Boy is set in present-day Berlin and stars Tom Schilling as 20-something slacker Niko Fischer. As the film begins, Niko's non-commital attitude leads to him getting dumped by his girlfriend (Katharina Schüttler) and his day gets progressively worse from there: after a terse interview with a psychologist (Andreas Schröders) that leads to him getting his driving licence suspended, Niko spends the day bumming around Berlin in search of a relaxing cup of coffee, but even achieving that simple goal appears to be beyond him.

As the day progresses, Niko has a series of encounters, all of which have varying degrees of awkwardness, from his middle-aged neighbour (Justus von Dohnányi), who's on the verge of a nervous breakdown, to unemployed, immature actor friend Matze (Marc Hosemann), to a beautiful former classmate (Friederike Kempter) that he doesn't remember until she reminds him she used to be much bigger and he called her Roly-Poly Julia. And as if that wasn't bad enough, Niko is summoned by his golf-obsessed father (Ulrich Noethen), who informs him he's been cut off, financially, because he's just found out he dropped out of law school two years ago.

The Good
Tom Schilling is excellent as Niko, delivering a wry, under-stated performance that's extremely engaging, despite his comical levels of inactivity (when he's finally jolted out of his passive attitude to life, it's the film's ultra-low-key equivalent of a major emotional turning point). There's also strong support from Friederike Kempter as Julika (the excruciating performance art piece she invites Niko and Matze to see is one of several comic highlights), while Ulrich Noethen is good value as Niko's no-nonsense father and Andreas Schröders is very funny as the sarcastic psychologist.

Gerster's script is excellent, delivering a number of darkly funny gags and creating a slacker's-eye snapshot of modern-day Germany, while also making a series of subtle observations about disenfranchised European 20-somethings. In this light, the expertly structured final stages of the film (prompted by a late-night encounter in a bar) take on a deeper significance as Niko is forced to listen to a drunken old man (Michael Gwisdek) relate his war experiences (after initially dismissing him) before the evening takes an unexpected turn.

The Great
The film looks utterly gorgeous throughout, with Phillip Kirsamer's stunning black and white cinematography, combined with a traditional jazz score, deliberately recalling Woody Allen's Manhattan. The film is also reminiscent of Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, leading waggish critics to nickname it Frances Ja when it played alongside Baumbach's film at Edinburgh last year.

Worth seeing?
Oh Boy is an engaging and enjoyable German slacker comedy that marks out writer-director Jan-Ole Gerster as a future talent to watch. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 17/10/2017 17:57

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