At first glace, Young Goethe In Love seems like Germany's version of Shakespeare In Love. The parallels of the two men and their literary works of genius are certainly there. Much like Shakespeare In Love, Young Goethe portrays the literary giant as a young man, listless, wandering, his genius untapped as he tries to find himself in the world. And much like Shakespeare In Love, Young Goethe was drawn from a mostly fictitious take on real events in the early life of the German poet.
So, yeah, it's pretty much Germany's version of Shakespeare In Love. But it works.
Young Goethe In Love (in German with English subtitles) is a portrayal of how the poet turned his anguished, unrequited love -- as well as the tragic turn of events his friend Jerusalem suffers in his own failed love affair with a married woman -- into his grand masterpiece novel. There ain't no muse like a busted heart.
In 1772, we find the young Johann Wolfgang Goethe (Alexander Fehling) flunking out of law school and getting drunk with his friends. He's a free spirit trapped in a stringent world where class is everything. Everyone else is a tight-ass, with their immaculate waistcoats firmly tucked into their breeches, and their wigs suitably powdered. But Goethe is Jim Morrison trapped in the 1700s. He flaunts authority, is disheveled, and hung over. All he wants to do is write his poems and get them published.
But back in the day, poets were seen as, well, fruity. And Goethe's stern father is having none of it, so he sends the young lad away to a small town where he is accepted to work at a provincial law firm. It's here that he befriends fellow law student Wilhelm Jerusalem. Wilhelm will eventually be featured prominently in Goethe's novel. And if you've ever read The Sorrows of Young Werther, you know shit doesn't end well for Jerusalem. Goethe also meets and falls in love with the beautiful Lotte Buff. Buff falls for the hopelessly romantic Goethe, and the two frolic in the rolling hills of Germany and get it on while it rains. But, unbeknownst to him, Buff is promised to marry the wealthy and successful Albert Kestner. Kester is, of course, Goethe's boss at the law firm.
Cliché'? Oh yes. But it somehow works, thanks mostly to Fehling's turn as Goethe. It's a likeable, charming, and genuine performance, reminiscent of the late Heath Ledger. Don't be surprised if Fehling comes to Hollywood (he's already had a bit part in Inglorious Basterds) and becomes a star. Dude has the chops.
The screenplay by Alexander Dydyna, Christoph Muller, and Philipp Stolzl is crisp and moving. It doesn't get lost in the usual, trite, and tired rom-com modus operandi you might think a film like this would be. The characters are well drawn out. Kestner is a likeable fellow, even if he is totally cockblocking Goethe with his successful career and money. There's genuine care for the story here. The love triangle is not just a means to end for the typical handsome-but-poor-boy-meets-girl-who-is-involved-with-rich-guy formula.
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Filled with humor, tragedy and an accessible plot, the film delivers a satisfying story worthy of other great romantic romps. As a period piece, you can't go wrong with Young Goethe. It's not all powdered wigs and gothic Germanic settings. It's a nice date movie -- if your date doesn't mind reading subtitles.
Young Goethe in Love shows at Tower Theater through Thursday.