“A man can be a niño,” a Spanish teacher instructs the eponymous protagonist of “Kamper” midway through a casual vocabulary lesson. “In fact, most of them are at times.” It’s the most on-the-nose line in Polish writer-director Lukasz Grzegorzek’s amiably shaggy relationship comedy, in which a scruffy Warsaw hipster’s reluctance to grow up lands his otherwise ideal marriage on the rocks. The thesis that many thirtysomething men these days are essentially still children in larger (and often dirtier) T-shirts is hardly a revelatory one in the age of Judd Apatow, but “Kamper” nonetheless restates the obvious with self-effacing good humor and a sincere lump in its throat. This sweetly forlorn, endearingly acted film may be a little too familiar to score distribution far beyond Eastern European territories, but should prove a consistent audience charmer on the festival circuit.
There’s nothing outwardly amiss about Kamper (Piotr Zurawski), Mania (Marta Nieradkiewicz) or their comfortable urban marriage, as the pic’s opening scenes show them cooking, canoodling and kidding around in their spacious, chicly minimalist flat. (It was bought, in what is clearly an unspoken sore point, by Mania’s parents.) They have no children, but Grzegorzek and Krzysztof Uminski’s script avoids making this a sentimental sticking point; Kamper is interested enough in the developing pregnancy of his unattached work pal Dorota (Justyna Suwala), but neither he nor Mania evince strong parental yearnings. Perhaps, it’s not so subtly suggested, that’s because the prank-loving Kamper is something of a boy himself: Even his career, as an expert video-game developer, resembles the dream adulthood of a child.
Any manchild walks a fine line between “winsome” and “irksome,” however, and the charm is beginning to pall for aspiring chef Mania: “This is the exact moment your jokes cease to be funny,” she chides him in bed, following a particularly juvenile act of breast-fondling foreplay. Soon after, she admits to a workplace fling with her older mentor (and Gordon Ramsay-style celebrity chef) Marek (Jacek Bariak, in a droll cameo), which sends Kamper into a tailspin of self-doubt and a low-key flirtation with alluring Spanish tutor Luna (Sheily Jimenez). Kamper and Mania’s subsequent attempts to maturely mend their marriage proceed in halting, one-step-forward-two-steps-back fashion, though the question of whether it’d better for both of them to move on hovers throughout. Unlike many lightweight relationship studies of its ilk, “Kamper” doesn’t place a premium on togetherness.
Though the film largely adopts the title character’s point of view, it is refreshingly reluctant to vilify Mania for her infidelity. The marital circumstances and personal frustrations that led to her straying are even-handedly laid out, while Kamper’s half-hearted attempts at payback (including a comically unequal face-off with Marek) hardly flatter him as a character. If Weronika Bilska’s widescreen lensing seems to be taking sides, shooting Mania in chilly blues while spicing up its palette whenever Luna enters the frame, perhaps that’s just slyly indicative of Kamper’s own moody short-sightedness. It’s telling, meanwhile, that Mania’s independent passion project — starting up a fashionable food-truck business — culminates in a bright tangerine paint job. Perhaps she hasn’t been the raincloud of adult reality in the marriage after all: “Everything sucks, nothing’s right… I’m over that,” she says, admonishing her husband for his obstinate pessimism.
Zurawski’s affable, hangdog vulnerability as a performer allows Kamper to retain our sympathies even when he isn’t necessarily deserving of them — which is canny enough, given that the character has coasted through life in much the same way. Nieradkiewicz deftly colors Mania’s exasperation with gentler notes of melancholy and guilt; Suwala and Bartlomiej Swiderski offer winning support in underwritten best-friend roles. Nimbly edited and casually plotted, “Kamper” may not give its engaging ensemble much hefty drama to chew on; it’s light on ecstasy and anguish. But it’s a film that convincingly proceeds at the pace and temperature of life itself, pausing for its immature protagonist to ask not just the big questions, but where the hell he might buy new bedsheets.