In recent years audiences have been witness to a surge in films that tell multiple sub-stories that intermingle and often interweave, and, although there have been several stand-outs among that group, it is generally a fairly difficult thing to get right. So it is with Men in the City (Männerherzen), which starts well but soon becomes a bit lost in its various subplots and fails to tell the tale it seems intent upon.
Five men of varying backgrounds and professions all work out at what appears to be a very upmarket gym. One is a beaurocrat who can’t talk to women; another a music producer for whom a threesome isn’t out of the question. Yet another is a successful advertising executive about to be married, while a fourth is an about-to-be-divorced train driver. The fifth? He has a new girlfriend and no job, and she is going to rock his world with a major announcement.
As always, the success or otherwise of a film that uses this structure depends upon the balance with which the stories are handled and the engagement the audience experiences with each tale. While it can be a good thing that a viewer feels a moment of loss when the focus changes from one story to another, there should never be a subplot that audiences simply don’t want to return to. The determination of writer/director Simon Verhoeven to explore the many different approaches men take to love and sex means that several of his lead characters are difficult to come to terms with, and certainly several of his stories simply don’t fit well with the jaunty and light-hearted approach the film appears to be taking in its opening scenes.
It is perhaps in these scenes, however, that the film is most successful, with the quirky soundtrack and breezy direction allowing the characters to be introduced with aplomb and promising a greater experience than is eventually delivered. Marshmellow Club contributes many of the songs to the soundtrack of the film, although it is their song (‘Choking on a Marshmallow’) over the opening sequences that has most impact.
One does need to wonder whether a film like this could, or would, be made about women and their flaws, and we have mentioned here at hoopla.nu before that the trope of the man-child who needs to grow up or miss out on a real relationship with a woman has been flogged to death. It can be hypocritical when filmmakers bemoan the emotional immaturity of their male characters, when they have chosen not to tell the story of the poor bastards who have grown up and settled down, presumably because they feel the best drama or comedy is found in the lives of those who haven’t.
Til Schweiger will likely be the best known of the actors to Australian audiences, after his appearance in 2009’s epic and wonderful Tarantino flick Inglourious Basterds, and his story is one of the more successful due to his performance. Maxim Mehmet contributes the other really strong lead turn, although Wotan Wilke Möhring does a fair job of an uninspiring character. Generally, the performances are adequate, and the female characters are given little opportunity in a film resolutely determined to explain the experience of the modern man.
Men in the City is a fairly average depiction of the foibles and folly of men in their thirties who are still finding their place. The uneveness of the subplots and the inadequate resolution of several of the characters’ stories mean it can’t possibly be considered great, but might allow for a moderately enjoyable night at the Festival of German Film.Rating: