Amazingly the first full-scale feature set in the world of speed dating, “Shoppen” is a frisky, beautifully played and written comedy that just goes with its oddball characters rather than trying to draw social messages from its subject. First pic by Munich-born writer-director Ralf Westhoff, a former journalist and shortsmaker, is ready-made for upscale auds who appreciate good dialogue and lively character comedy, and in the hands of the right distribs could enjoy niche theatrical biz beyond fest outings. Pic drew good reviews and a steady run on German release in early summer.
Opening reel intros some of the characters, and the final half-hour follows up on the results of some of the encounters. But the heart of the movie is its central 50-minute section, in which eight men and eight women take part in a speed-dating sesh.
Rules of the game, supervised by a guy with a large clock (Wilm Roil), dictate that everyone move along to a new partner every five minutes. Participants are all from Munich and are looking for partners. Setting is a plain white hall, with no distractions.
Lineup of characters covers the whole spectrum. On the more outgoing side, there’s Katharina (Tanja Schleiff), who likes stringing men along (“sex is my hobby”); flashy Patrick (Felix Hellmann); uber-cool Joerg (Sebastian Weber); spacey blonde Isabella (Katharina Schubert); garulous masseuse Mediha (Mediha Cetin); and confidant Falk (Christian Pfeil), whose best friend is his mirror and who’s looking for the “perfect love.”
On the more controlled side, there’s clipboard-carrying Thorsten (Matthias Bundschuh), who conducts his seshes like business interviews; self-pitying Irina (Lisa Wagner), who asks left-of-field questions like, “What was the most beautiful surprise of your life?”; canny Miriam (Kathrin von Steinburg), who manages to break through Thorsten’s controlled front; and nice guy Jens (Oliver Buergin).
As the couples rotate, Westhoff’s script eavesdrops on individual conversations, dropping out the sounds from other conversations. Semi-docu approach — which focuses on faces and bodies as the participants either squirm in embarrassment or strut ther stuff — builds each character out of bits and pieces as each sesh gathers steam. Though initially it’s difficult to remember who’s who, the name tags help.
Pacing is sustained not only by the fine casting of either unknowns or TV players — many of whom would seem to have bright futures — but also by the varied emotions on display. Here and there, a character may freak out — mostly the women — but whatever happens, after five minutes, the clock goes back to zero again.
It’s a neat idea that’s sustained by Westhoff’s good ear for dialogue, traversing everything from politics, food, music and sex to lateral subjects like trends, attitudes and dreams. The thirtysomethings are as obsessed about public transport and allergies as they are about loneliness and romantic dreams.
Extended coda, which follows a handful of subsequent hookups, is both funny and romantic, set in the streets and bars of an attractive-looking Munich.
Technical package is good-looking, sans extra gloss. Title simply means “Shopping.”