Monday, July 24, 2006

I don't trust me around you: reviewing Good Bye, Lenin!

"How is this a cliffhanger? You know Mer ends up with McDreamy and nothing's going to happen to Izzie."

After I posted my summer pop music ratings, Feisty sent me the following IM:
I can't believe more people didn't berate you for posting gay music.
Now that I think about it- why weren't you reviewing better music?
Fair question. How could someone with such incredible taste in music lower himself to talking about Top 40? My response:
Because I find it hard to be critical of music that I actually like.
When I like something, I fall in love with it so it's hard to judge it objectively, you know?
I'm all for being fairness and balance, but too often, I just end up being Fair & Balanced.

And that's the way I am with movies (and girls too, which is why I'm never going to love anyone, ever again). When I really enjoy a film, say, Amores Perros, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Zoolander, I fall hopelessly in love and turn into a babbling teenager with a schoolgirl crush on the swim team captain.

Which is fine - I've said it before, I'm all for diving into love head-first, warts and all. But it doesn't make for particularly good critical writing. Who wants to read a gushing, tongue-bathing, five-star review about an above-average romantic comedy from Iceland? That is to say, take the following review with a grain of salt or two because I loved Good Bye Lenin!, so much so that I immediately sent off a glowing recommendation to all three of my Netflix friends (which is so so sad on so so many levels).

I was skeptical when I read the synopsis,
Alex Kerner's (Daniel Bruhl) mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) falls into a coma just as the Berlin Wall is about to come down. Eight months later, she wakes up, but her heart is too weak to withstand any great shock. So Alex goes to great (and often hysterical) lengths to keep the truth about her country's reform a secret
which made it sound like the German marriage of Weekend at Bernie's and While You Were Sleeping. But I gave it a chance because, well, there isn't a single group of people with a better sense of humor than the Germans. When you think comedy, you think Germany.

He fought the wall and he won.

The film is driven by the growing gap between the rapidly changing Berlin and the mini-East Germany Alex creates for his mother in their apartment, and the near-misses she has with the outside world (her encounter with the statue of the titular Soviet icon is tragicomiglorious), but it's not a one-joke movie that it could have easily ended up being.

Like all movies that are good rather than merely entertaining, Lenin works because it cares about each character. It points to the harsh side of revolution and capitalism for the older generation who can't adjust to the changes, but without ever moralizing or falling into the good ol' days trap. The characters are treated as people with needs and goals and desires, not plot devices. Oh, and Chulpan Khamatova, who plays Alex's Russian nurse girlfriend, is the most adorable thing you'll ever see smoking a joint.

Lenin is heartfelt without being melodramatic, absurd without being ridiculous, and layered without being heavy-handed. And it passed my litmus test for foreign language films with flying colors - I forgot I was reading subtitles after about 15 minutes in (though I caught many, many uses of "scheisse", which came out during the games of Uno at the bar the next evening). So yeah, I loved it, and there's a pretty good chance you might too.

Good Bye Lenin!: official|rotten tomatoes|netflix|imdb

Btw, Blogger is acting up today. I apologize to readers using RSS readers for the multiple postings.

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