Written by Zac Platt. Reviewed as part of the 2014 Audi Festival of German Films. ClickÂ HEREÂ for the festival schedule and to purchase tickets.
Oh Boy isÂ a day in the lifeÂ Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling), a jobless college dropout living a directionless life in the city of Berlin. Writer/Director Jan Ole Gerster lobs this one firmly at the hipster demographic, giving us an 83-minute black and white slice-of-life flick that alternates betweenÂ beingÂ a comedy about the quirky frustrations of Niko’s world and a somberÂ contemplationÂ on the aimlessÂ andÂ theÂ lonely. It’s about as unoriginal a concept as you can get andÂ itÂ loses a lot of steam by not spreading the humour andÂ melancholyÂ more evenly throughoutÂ theÂ film. Luckily, the tone and relatability of Niko are enough to ensure Oh Boy isn’t a total write off, andÂ some well-crafted moments makeÂ for a relaxed meditation for those willing toÂ sit back and let it wash over.
To call Oh Boy decompressed would be an understatement. With perhaps oneÂ pivotalÂ exception, this is a film that trades on the eccentric minutiae of Niko’s bohemian world. Though it doesn’t quite hold up when the film tries to become more ponderous, this tight focus does allow for some fun dry comedy whenever urban lifeÂ decides to bat Niko around. The jokes can be a little easy and contrived, but the situations are muted enough that you can look past it and have fun. The real problem with the comedy is that it mostly seems to be stuffed intoÂ the first half of the film, leaving long stretches of Niko dully drifting from scene to scene. Though the tonal shift is subtle to occur, it’s blinding in retrospect. By notÂ effectively balancing the comedy and drama, Oh Boy instead betrays the tone that first engages you for something gloomy and alien.
The bigger problem though, is how poorly drawn a character Niko turns out to be.Â Gerster banks on familiarity and rarely allows his lead a moment to define himself in any way. It’s not just the unoriginality of his design, but rather that he adds nothing to any situation the film puts him in. A perpetual straight-man, Niko simply bounces from moment to moment asÂ bad luck makes sport of him and the surrounding cast converse and bicker.Â That aside, Tom Schilling does come off as authentic and gives what he can to an underwritten character. Add to that some decent comedic timing where the movie permits and Schilling allows you to forgive his inconsequential character.
The greater cast do generally have more going for them in terms of personality, but theyÂ can feel a little half-baked at times. This is partly because their stories rarely see any form of resolution and partly because subtext and exposition get blurted out in place of more natural dialogue. But Oh Boy sort of gets away with it by making them either genuinely fun and goofy sides, or sobering reflections of the film’s thesis. It is in the latter thatÂ earnsÂ Oh Boy its mostÂ valuable asset.
Throughout the wackiness of Niko’s day we are treated to quiet moments with the other forgotten denizensÂ of Berlin. Each oneÂ isÂ a tragic portrait of solitude hidden behind an insecure smile and gratitude for being noticed. Though manifested differently in each subject, there is an unmistakableÂ camaraderieÂ between the lonelyÂ that defines the world of Oh Boy as something more than other films on mid-twenties musing.
Though I’m hesitant to say Oh Boy is a story rooted in its setting, its tale of urban isolation definitely benefits from the looming shadow of Nazi Germany which is alluded to at a few key points in the film. There’s a sense that Gerster perhaps intended to use this history to make a film more about Germany’s modern identity than the character piece it is at its surface, but it doesn’t come together as poignantly as one would hope. There is something interesting being said here, but it can be a little hard to dig out among the sparseness of the script and the inconsistent tone. But if you can handle something a little quieter and decompressed, Oh BoyÂ is a perfect film for any lonely urbanite looking to unwind.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10