A German goth girl’s father gives her a good reason to wear black by committing suicide in “Lollipop Monster,” the confident directorial debut of Ziska Riemann. Complex, occasionally candy-colored pic plays like a spunky postmodern fairy tale as it examines the unlikely friendship between two angsty schoolgirls — an inky death-rock chick and a peroxide-blond teen who never saw a bright color she couldn’t wear — who try to navigate their wacky families and their own burgeoning sexuality. “Lollipop” should see sweet returns in local arthouses, where it goes out Aug. 25, and have some legs on the fest circuit.
Director is only the latest gig on 37-year-old Riemann’s resume, which also includes screenwriter, novelist, comicbook artist and recording artist. Her co-scribe, Luci van Org, is famous for her stint as the singer of the 1994 femme-centric pop ditty “Maedchen,” though she’s also worked as a TV host and columnist. Given the duo’s richly varied backgrounds, it’s hardly surprising that “Lollipop Monster” succeeds in forging a coherent visual and narrative universe out of wildly disparate elements.
Oona (Sarah Horvath) is the dark-haired, always black-garbed daughter of a tortured painter (Fritz Hammel), who hangs himself from a tree in full view of the school that both Oona and Marilyn Monroe-blond classmate Ari (Jella Haase) attend. Despite being total opposites, at least on the outside, the girls bond in the wake of the shocking event, which was caused at least indirectly by Oona’s revelation that her mother (Nicolette Krebitz) and her hot-and-bothered uncle, Lukas (Thomas Wodianka), were having a sexual affair.
Ari, who’s at least a head shorter than Oona, has her own clownish clan at home, including a severely disturbed brother (Janusz Kocaj) and a mother (Sandra Borgmann) who, like Ari, seems to overcompensate by being extremely bright and upbeat all the time.
Horvath, who looks like a young Nina Hagen, is excellent as the goth girl and artist wannabe who needs to learn to externalize her anger, while Haase is equally good, the two working as a yin-and-yang duo. Bit players are all solid, with Wodianka a standout as the slimy, opportunistic and perpetually horny Lukas (none of the men are decent in this female-oriented universe).
Using the girls’ developing friendship as a throughline, Riemann is free to indulge in whimsical asides, strange plot twists and odd technical inserts, such as musicvids, scenes lensed in blocky Super 16 and short animated sequences. Rather than feeling contrived or arty, they seem to express what’s going on in the girls’ minds as both try to navigate their rather eventful coming-of-age.
Quirky collage approach is complemented by the over-the-top production and costume design (Ari must be one of the world’s few 15-year-olds with an extensive collection of garter belts). Saturated lensing by Hannes Hubach includes some impressive sequence shots, particularly in the film’s bravura opening in Ari’s gaudily decorated home. Rest of tech package is equally strong.