With his third feature, rising Romanian director Paul Negoescu (“A Month in Thailand,” “Two Lottery Tickets”) reaches back to a time when Woody Allen’s name was associated with intelligent romantic comedies and jazz, delivering a film drenched in Allen-esque situations replanted in Bucharest. That in itself is fine, yet while “The Story of a Summer Lover” is intended as an homage to those classic films, down to the use of music and specific urban settings, Negoescu lacks the ability to make his schlubby characters interesting.
Instead, this overly chatty story of a math professor who finds more satisfaction sleeping with nubile students than with his girlfriend merely hauls out yet another bunch of unexceptional navel-gazing characters whose physical and intellectual attractions will escape most audiences’ comprehension. It’s good to see Romanian cinema continuing to diversify, but this isn’t quite the thinking man’s comedy it very much wants to be.
The triumvirate of friends in the superior “Two Lottery Tickets” have far more energy and humor than the three chums here: Math professor Petru (Alexandru Papadopol), writer Silviu (Radu Romaniuc) and actor Andi (Rolando Matsangos) sit in cafés or walk the city endlessly talking in circles. Petru is the film’s flawed hero but also the one with the weakest backbone. He’s a thirtysomething adolescent who combines a need for instant gratification with moral cowardice and a lack of responsibility. Unable to reach orgasm with his partner Irina (Nicoleta Lefter), he finds gratification with coeds from his university like Cristina (Iulia Ciochină), defending himself against his friends’ ragging by saying that at least he doesn’t sleep with students in his own classes.
Although Petru and Irina have an open relationship, he decides to call it quits until she announces she’s pregnant. Given his inability to ejaculate, the news comes as a shock, but the fetus is definitely his and although he’s constitutionally unprepared to be a father, he figures he’d better support Irina’s decision. Irina however finally wakes up to the fact that he’s an immature companion and tells him not only that the relationship is over, but she’s aborting. While he smarts from the rejection and debates whether to try reversing Irina’s decision, he begins a flirtation with Sînziana (Crina Semciuc), a student he’s begun to tutor.
The bare bones sound familiar, right? Middle-aged chatterbox attracted to barely legal girls comes to a relationship impasse and has to decide whether to finally own up to a life of responsibility. At least Allen’s neurotic alter-egos had self-deprecating charm and were funny; he also breathed life into many female characters, though to be fair “Summer Lover” has a higher percentage of women (largely in secondary roles) than Negoescu’s previous films. Besides just an overall lack of impetus, the main problem with the movie is that Petru’s immaturity makes him an exceedingly dull protagonist. In addition, the idea for the umpteenth time that unremarkable thirtysomethings are somehow catnip to girls just out of their teens needs to be put to rest.
Using voiceover, Negoescu has Silviu relate the story of a thinly fictionalized version of Petru he’s writing as a short story, yet the device doesn’t work. Pushing Woody Allen themes, the director opens with a nighttime montage of city shots accompanied by vintage music (in this case, early 1930s tango songs by the marvelous Romanian singer Titi Botez), and later includes a basketball scene along with conversations in city parks that check off numerous Allen boxes. Visually the film has little to hold interest.