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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.28.13] Germany comedy drama arthouse



Jan Ole Gerster's feature debut is a blackly comic drama set in Berlin and chronicles the disastrous day experienced by its aimless twenty-something protagonist Niko Fischer.

Niko (played by Tom Schilling) is a law-school drop-out still living the student life on his father's handouts, but over the course of one afternoon and evening he finds himself cut-off financially, dumped by his girlfriend and banned from driving after a brutal session with his sadistic psychologist. Shot in black and white, Oh Boy is an effortlessly cool little movie which isn't so much laugh-out-loud funny as it is bitingly caustic and steeped in irony.


Niko just wants a decent cup of coffee in the morning, but is thwarted at every turn. He's only a few cents short at his local cafe but they won't give him any charity. Returning home he finds his weird neighbour on the doorstep, looking for a sympathetic ear; bribing him with suspicious looking home-made meatballs and schnapps. Niko just wants to be left in peace. Later a round of golf with his father will end in chastisement, and an awkward encounter with an old school friend causes acute embarrassment and will eventually lead to more trouble - "You don't remember me, do you? You used to call me Roly-Poly-Julie... before I lost all the weight."

Niko drifts around the city, eventually hitching a lift with an actor friend who's hoping to find some work on the set of a film being made nearby, but he leaves when he realizes that the craft service table has run out of coffee. Towards the end of the night he'll find himself bonding with a cocaine dealer's grandmother, before enduring an experimental performance art piece and wondering what he's doing there. The film takes many strange turns but ends with a touching and suitably surreal vignette in a bar where he's gone to drown his sorrows, and meets an older man who helps to put the problems in his life into perspective.

What makes Oh Boy work so well, as more than just a slacker comedy or hipster art-film, can be found in its overall tone and style. It's a surprisingly sweet and philosophical film, at times melancholic and contemplative, but also full of the kind of observational and socially awkward humour that we've seen in comedies from Larry David. Gerster keeps the atmosphere low-key and his actors tend to underplay their roles with the odd exception, and this gives us a chance to really listen, not just to the words spoken, but the messages told through subtle facial expressions and body language. For example, when playing golf Niko is told by his dad, "Imagine you're taking a swing at the person you hate the most." The lingering look he gives to his father before whacking the ball tells you everything you need to know about their relationship.

The film also looks terrific. Shot in black and white and with a jazz score straight out of late 70s' Woody Allen, Berlin has rarely looked better on the screen. The easy pace to events give the experience of watching the film a naturalistic feel, and as Niko wanders aimlessly around the city and characters drift in and out of his life there is a sense of comfort in just watching all of this play out.

We live a world in which the highest grossing comedies are made in Hollywood, and usually involve obnoxious and overpaid mega-stars mugging at the camera. It's a funny feeling to come out from watching a genuinely good film like this one, and then see an advert on a bus for a 'feel-good' film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams, which looks about as amusing as waking-up in the middle of the night and discovering a burglar in your house. Maybe I exaggerate there, but it's how I feel about De Niro's comedy roles.

Oh Boy is a terrific little film which just goes to show what can be done with intelligent and subtle writing and direction. It's well worth checking out and I'd be sad if this were the last I were to hear of it.


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guido_jenkins (5 years ago) Reply

OK...I'm in...definately a breath of freash air in a world of stale films....cant wait...

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guido_jenkins (5 years ago) Reply

OK...I'm in...definately a breath of freash air in a world of stale films....cant wait...

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lobsterbox (5 years ago) Reply

very good movie !


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