Oh Boy!, a compelling tragicomedy in Black & White, is an ironic portrait of a young man (Tom Schilling, in a believable, unforced performance) who drops out of university and ends up experiencing the streets of the city he lives: Berlin. The film deals with the desire to participate in life and the difficulty finding one's place. His credit card is gobbled. His driver's license is withheld in an Orwellian interview. He loses interest in a girlfriend. He tries repeatedly to purchase regular coffee, but cannot seem to be able to find any or close the deal. He smokes constantly.
The musical skeins that permeate the film evoke some of Woody Allen's charming if hapless counterintuitive dioramas of irony reflective of many of the issues that rived Europe in WWII, including a subtle but evident leitmotif of Nazism as it manifests in efforts to expiate or scrub the persistent leftovers, Oh Boy! is a winning debut from director Jan Ole Gerster.
A major theme running the length of the 90 minutes is the still-undigested Nazi element in Germany today. An actor dons a Wehrmacht-era uniform, but acts idiotic in it. A friend casually salutes him with "Heil Hitler." A group of 20-somethings evoke the fascistic thuggery of the WWII era, abusing strangers and women without conscience.
I spoke to Gerster. In answer to my question about the Why? Of this Nazi undercurrent, the director tried four times to answer, returning to me repeatedly when I shook my head in reply that his answer did not satisfy me or answer the question adequately. "My English is so bad..." --but it was good.
The themes touched on, not hammered over the viewer's head, go farther and more directly to the heart and intellect than the sad mess of a film by Robert Redford, The Company You Keep, a particularly ham-handed piece of patchwork agit-prop politicking that comes at a particularly inauspicious time for a defense of domestic terrorism.
Where, you might ask, did the title come from? Director Gerster said that friends suggested any number of titles, all bad. "Coffee in Berlin." "A Day in Berlin." We laughed at the inanity. But he was a devotee of the Beatles, and in particular heard lyrics from one song: "I heard the news today, Oh boy!..." and decided that was probably a better name for his maiden film than any. Voila.
Well worth an hour and a half.
In German. English subtitles.
Playing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and no doubt eventually on your television via cable, netflix, Hulu, etc., should you so choose.