A Coffee In Berlin

****

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Oh Boy
"A gently-paced comedy of errors and manners."

Have you ever read Marmaduke Explained? It's a series that explains the long running single-panel cartoon Marmaduke. I mention it here because it's funny, genuinely so, but not in a way that's easy to quantify. Let me try again - if you read The New Yorker, you may be familiar with its tradition of single-panel cartoons which contain some pithy bon-mot or mot-juste or mo'problems but there's a game that you can play which is replace the carefully crafted caption with "Christ, What An Asshole."

By which I mean this is a black and white comedy from Germany that eschews a simple, single narrative for a series of linked vignettes, a gently-paced comedy of errors and manners and shallow absurdities and - it's laugh out loud funny in places, be sure. It's akin to some of Louis CK's work in his FX "sitcom" Louie, a debt to Larry David can probably be identified, but let's not be anglo-centric - humour is predicated upon the subversion of expectations and cultural translation can be difficult, but Oh Boy focuses on problems that it's easy to empathise with, if not sympathise with.

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If this were a Rob Schneider vehicle - just as an aside, did you know that Pacific Rim is actually Guillermo del Toro's version of a Variety article about the use of giant robots to stop Rob Schneider "comedies"? - if this were a Rob Schneider film the trailer would probably start with Voiceover Guy saying "Niko's having a bad day... he's unlucky in love, thirsty for coffee, and now he's got to sit... The Idiot Test. Rated PG-13".

There is an "idiot test"; it's a psychological assessment to determine if you're fit to drive after your license is suspended. There's no coffee there either, but this is avowedly not PG-13. There's swearing, Nazis, references to Scorsese's Taxi Driver, a difficult piece of modern dance/drama, drinking, fucking, swearing, death, even golf. It's not PG-13, even if it's informed by what amounts to a prolonged adolescence.

It's a series of unfortunate events, punctuated by jazzy interludes, aeroplanes in the sky and the tweeting of birds. Written and directed by Jan Ole Gerster, Oh Boy is beautifully distanced by its monochrome, wonderfully supported by music from The Major Minors and Cherilyn MacNeil, and absolutely, entirely, about Tom Schilling's performance as Niko. Somewhere between l'esprit de l'escalier and fridge logic, Oh Boy is a film of that delayed reaction where you realise you should have kept your mouth shut only because you've got your foot stuck in your teeth. It's touching, genuinely affecting, and, most importantly for a comedy, funny.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2013
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Niko's life is falling apart but all he really wants is a cup of coffee.
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Director: Jan Ole Gerster

Writer: Jan Ole Gerster

Starring: Tom Schilling, Marc Hosemann, Friederike Kempter, Andreas Schröders, Justus von Dohnányi

Year: 2012

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Germany

Festivals:

EIFF 2013
Karlovy 2017

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