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DIRECTOR: Philipp Stolzl
CAST: Alexander Fehling, Volker Bruch, Miriam Stein, Moritz Bleibtreu
CLASSIFICATION: 10M V
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
Pitched somewhere between Bright Star and Shakespeare in Love, Philipp Stolzl’s Young Goethe in Love falls close enough to the latter author-based romance to inspire some guilt in any literature student seduced by its charms.
Less rigorous art-house audiences, though, will find it easy to be carried away by a period love story whose appealing leads and German countryside make historical ties almost beside the point.
The film’s awkward title is an improvement over the German one – the exclamatory Goethe! Nevertheless, the hero’s first on-screen appearance invites high-brow ridicule and recommends that what we’re about to see shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Indeed, the screenplay uses facts from the author’s life only when they suit its arc, and goes so far as to invent a duel between him and his romantic rival that, in addition to threatening Goethe’s life, occasions a fictional imprisonment and the writing of his break-through The Sorrows of Young Werther.
Introducing Johann Wolfgang Goethe (Fehling) via irreverent antics suggesting an Amadeus copycat, Goethe quickly settles down a bit, shuffling the law student and aspiring poet out of a failed academic post and off to a legal job in Wetzlar.
Here he bonds with drinking buddy/roommate Wilhelm Jerusalem (Bruch) and soon meets rosy-cheeked Lotte (Stein).
After spending a chaste day with Lotte’s family and engaging in some rom-com gamesmanship about which will write the other first, the pair share a first kiss in a rain-soaked ruin, then get naked bodies muddy without being quite brazen enough to offend a middle-school literature teacher.
Unbeknown to Goethe, his boss – stiff Albert Kestner, played with some depth by German star Moritz Bleibtreu – also fancies Lotte, and given her large family’s financial desperation, she has little choice but to consent when he proposes.
The romantic despair and broken friendships that follow are not so transporting they would inspire any viewer to kill himself in sympathy – famously, Young Werther set off a wave of suicides, so their presentation suffers from the occasional cliché.
But Stölzl and his writers don’t overburden the tried-and-true narrative skeleton they have borrowed.
Before things get maudlin, they offer the inevitable happy ending to this supposed tragedy. If Goethe is going to be a rock-star author and get to quit his day job, who cares about a little lost love? – Hollywood Reporter
If you liked… Goya’s Ghosts or Becoming Jane… you will like this.