“My Words, My Lies, My Love,” helmer Alain Gsponer’s well-crafted romantic comedy, glides along on the sheer power of rising German star Daniel Bruhl’s boyish charm. Film is based on Martin Suter’s bestseller about a bestseller, the story of a waiter who passes off a found manuscript as his own work to impress a lady, only to find himself an overnight literary sensation. If this clever crowdpleaser proves a bit lighthearted for a German-language arthouse release Stateside, particularly given Bruhl’s recent stint as a Nazi sniper in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” a Hollywood remake might fly.
Structured around a classic plot device reliably fueling comedies from “Nothing Sacred” to “While You Were Sleeping” — the momentary lie that grows to monstrous proportions and assumes a life of its own — the pic maintains a gently ironic tone without strain or undue artifice, incorporating its anachronisms rather than frantically attempting to update them.
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In voiceover, David Kern (Bruhl) confesses he’s virtually invisible, by dint of both his profession (waiter) and his nature (unobtrusive). When destiny and cafe customer Marie (Hannah Herzsprung), a literary woman on whom David has a crush, gift him with a flea-market nightstand, he forces open a jammed drawer to discover an old manuscript. Replacing the unknown author’s name with his own, he gives it to Marie in a bid for her attention, but receives more than he bargained for when Marie sends it off to a publisher.
Soon, shy, stammering David is reading “his” book to increasingly large crowds, whose initial bafflement at his faulty pronunciation is replaced by screaming adulation. The prize for his uneasy conscience is the love of Marie, who promptly moves in with him. But just as David starts to adjust to the highly competitive publishing world, an old, down-on-his-luck alcoholic, Jacky (Henry Hubchen), shows up claiming to be the true writer of the text.
Jacky doesn’t blackmail David with threats to disclose his lie to the public, since it’s clear that what is hailed as deliberate anachronism and postmodern quaintness from a handsome young author would be excoriated as outmoded schmaltz from an old one. Rather, Jacky needs only to threaten to disillusion the fair Marie.
He soon drunkenly muscles his way into every aspect of David’s newfound career, destabilizing his relationships, particularly with Marie. Briefly, the film seems poised to turn dark, as an overwhelmed David veers toward becoming an unwilling Ripley-type murderer, but fate steps in, allowing David to save himself in a splendidly ingenious version of having your cake and eating it.
Thesping is consistently strong. Bruhl’s knack for making morally ambivalent characters immensely likable, from the schizophrenic youth of “White Sound” to the quixotic son of “Good Bye Lenin!” indelibly brands the part of David as his. Herzsprung brings a nicely edgy, nuanced, Andie McDowell-type self-interest to her Marie role, and Hubchen’s febrile Jacky, whose thirst for booze is equaled only by his lust for food, masterfully weds greed and pathos.
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