Hamburg-based writer-director Matthias Glasner makes a sock feature bow with “Die Mediocren,” a fresh, angst-free, wonderfully quirky relationships comedy that has the same smell of talent as tyro U.S. indie pix at their best. Though it’s too soon to label Glasner “the German Hal Hartley,” there’s a similar elan to the writing and straight-faced humor that recalls the Yank director, even though the overall tenor of the pic is very different. With the right marketing and strong reviews, specialized distribs could turn a buck or two on this one.
Movie spins almost entirely around four main characters living in a large city in western Germany. There’s Robin (Jasmin Tabatabei), who doesn’t want kids and believes everything she reads in the media; Leo (Juergen Vogel), her b.f., who wants a kid but refuses to sleep with her to procreate, as he only has sex with women he doesn’t love; Jost (Dani Levy), Leo’s buddy, who’s also sleeping with Robin; and Anna (Andreja Schneider), Jost’s sister and single parent to 6 -year-old Benjamin, who starts to get the hots for Leo.
The four spoiled, supposedly liberal West Germans exist in a self-contained world in which sex, talking about sex and trashing the status quo form the focus of their lives. With no goals left, these ironically self-styled “meds” (mediocrities — the German title’s literal translation) are wrapped up in their own problems and relationships to the exclusion of anything else.
Main plot point is the suspicion that one of their number, Leo, may in fact be an “eastie,” a former East German who could be anything from a neo-Nazi to (horror of horrors) a Stalinist. Together, they set out on a journey to Leo’s home in the east.
Billing itself “a neo-romantic fast-food comedy,” film is almost entirely made up of conversation set pieces in apartments or moving cars, played in a slightly heightened, straight-faced style that has a distinctive loopy quality. Learning that Robin has also been sleeping with Jost, Leo becomes obsessed with the size of Jost’s member. Anna, who has no idea who her son’s father is, is more interested in her own love life than her kid’s happiness. Meanwhile, Robin seems totally oblivious to anyone else’s feeling but her own.
It’s perilously thin subject matter, but Glasner keeps the ship afloat with the quality of the dialogue and wonderful ensemble playing by the whole cast, especially Tabatabei as the paranoid conspiracy theorist Robin.
Shot in Super-35 matted to widescreen, the pic is always a delight to watch, with natural use of the aspect ratio.
Though some of the in-jokes about contempo German values may not travel, there’s enough spirited playing here to keep upscale foreign auds hooked.