Review: ‘Truth or Dare’

Quasi-comic study in extended truancy, psychologically situated somewhere between the social rootlessness of "Time Out" and the adolescent escapism of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," Jan Martin Scharf and Arne Nolting's freshman opus, "Truth or Dare," recounts the predicament of Annika, a girl who can never quite bring herself to tell her parents that she flunked out of school.

Quasi-comic study in extended truancy, psychologically situated somewhere between the social rootlessness of “Time Out” and the adolescent escapism of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Jan Martin Scharf and Arne Nolting’s freshman opus, “Truth or Dare,” recounts the predicament of Annika, a girl who can never quite bring herself to tell her parents that she flunked out of school. Sustained by a kick-ass perf by Katharina Schuttler (“Sophiiiie!”), pic succeeds in capturing puberty’s wavering uncertainty about the seriousness of any situation hyped by grownups. Too slight for arthouse auds, pic’s brisk amble on the fringes of normalcy might well graduate to cable.

Schuttler’s secret high school washout Annika is a creature of the moment, so constantly winging it is not too much of a stretch for her. Having let slip the most felicitous opportunity to announce the truth, she is stuck with a year-long juggling act always teetering on the verge of catastrophe.

This constant improvisation doesn’t completely distract her from the larger issue of what her diploma-less future may hold, but then again introspection and planning are not really part of her makeup. Without displaying any notable ingenuity or taking any particular pleasure in her deceptions (no Ferris Bueller, she), Annika holes up in an abandoned bus.

Writers-directors Scharf and Nolting have wisely surrounded their star with a strong supporting cast quite capable of handling carefully graduated levels of irony and caricature. Thus Annika’s parents, always a tricky proposition in teen comedies, are viewed with a measure of exasperated affection, their clueless concern over her scholastic future vastly complicating her charade.

Sad-sack father (Jochen Nickel), an airline pilot who has just been laid off because he failed to pass an exam, now has sufficient leisure time to devote himself fully to his daughter’s scholastic improvement. Mother (Therese Hamer), though busily involved in self-important local politics, nevertheless spares her daughter quality moments to hover lovingly.

Hiring a tutor to improve her non-existent math skills, dad delivers her into the arms of handsome, urbane Uli (Torben Liebrecht), whose sexual attentions and biweekly trysts are vastly empowering — until she discovers copy of the Kama Sutra where he has inscribed the names of girls (hers included) under each sexual position he assumed with them.

Meanwhile a younger, poorer, but equally fetching suitor presents himself in Kai (Thomas Feist), whose telescope-fitted window overlooks the derelict bus where Annika hangs out. Privy to Annika’s secret, he nevertheless falls for the fetching liar, the helmers faltering a bit in fabricating “two young things in love” montages awash in mood music they would have been wiser to avoid.

After a mock moral ending neatly skewering the uplifting virtues of truth, pic opts for full-scale escape from absurdist concerns of bourgeois respectability as Kai and Annika fly the coop.

Distribs might be well advised to change the present English title, since the Madonna film of the same name still retains a modicum of currency.

Truth or Dare

Germany

Production

A 2Pilots Filmproduktion production in association with WDR Acadameny of Media Arts. (International sales: Value Films, Krezlingen, Switzerland.) Produced by Harry Floter, Jorg Siepmann. Directed, written by Jan Martin Scharf, Arne Nolting.

Crew

Camera (color), Ralf M. Mendle; editor, Benjamin Ikes; music, Jorg Follert, Klee; art director, Tim Pannen; costumes, Anke Kerstan; sound designer (Dolby SR), Dietrich Korner. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (competing, First Film), Aug. 31, 2005. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Katharina Schuttler, Thomas Feist, Jochen Nickel, Therese Hamer, Torben Liebrecht.
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