The teenage coming-out pic has grown almost as familiar — and formulaic — as its escapist, hetero-romance mainstream equivalent. That said, conviction and skill can still redeem an overexposed subgenre, an outcome more or less achieved here by director/co-writer Marco Kreuzpaintner’s soph feature “Summer Storm.” Tale of a high-school rowing team’s captain going through major changes during a week-long training retreat is routine in some aspects, but compensates via psychologically sharp writing and performances. German drama will be a popular gay fest item, with good prospects for limited offshore arthouse and rental exposure.
Starnberg Rowing Club is the pride of its smallish Bavarian burg, with a winning streak partly attributable to much-liked, easygoing coxswain Tobi (Robert Stadlober). But he’s preoccupied at present by feelings of more-than-brotherly love toward best friend and teammate Achim (Kostja Ullmann). Tobi’s hopes are raised when the two enjoy a side-by-side masturbation interlude in the locker room one afternoon.
Yet Achim’s sexual/romantic interest seems much more magnetized by girlfriend Sandra (Miriam Morgenstern). Tobi hedges his bets by pretending to be interested in Sandra’s own best friend Anke (Alicja Bachleda-Curus), a beauty who’s smitten with him despite conflicting signals.
Yearning and tension are pushed toward extremis when the Stanberg boys’ and girls’ teams go off to a rowing camp in the countryside. With Achim and Sandra delighted by their parentally unsupervised freedom to experiment sexually, Tobi can’t suppers jealousy.
Tobi’s discomfort is amplified by the presence of the Berlin “Queer Strokes” team, self-confident, unapologetically “out” boys who enjoy ribbing and flirting with the highly discomfited Bavarians. Their cocky leader Malte (Hanno Koffler) schemes to seduce the most homophobic Stanbergian. But it’s a shyer Berlin boy who draws Tobi into his first, passionate sex. That tasteful but intense seg is immediately followed by an equally well-handled sequence wherein Tobi recoils from Anke’s desperate bid to lose her virginity.
His adolescent mind in tumult, Tobi reveals too much during a storm that forces everyone into a youth hostel and brings several minidramas to climax. Deft screenplay by helmer and Thomas Bahmann manages to maximize all conflicts before granting Tobi a public coming-to-terms at once embarrassing, funny, credible and dignified.
Pic is visually undistinguished for the most part, with TV-movie feel overall and lame use of freeze frames at fadeout. But the banality it skirts in general outline and presentation are compensated for by incisive scene-by-scene writing, perfs and direction. Juve thesps are very good; tech contribs decent but undistinguished.