What do you think of when I say the words “German romantic comedy?” It’s hard to think of anything, right? It just seems… well, wrong, really. The world of German cinema and the romantic comedy seem so diametrically opposed. And yet, that’s what the directorial debut of Matthias Schweighofer, What a Man, which attempts to reconcile. Much like Germany’s reunification of Berlin, Schweighofer attempts to bring together the world of German cinema, the dying sense of romance, and that impeccable German comedic sensibility.
To what degree of success Schweighofer has with this seemingly impossible feat is difficult to say. After all, regardless of the nationality, it is hard to think of a romantic comedy that has actually brought a healthy dose of comedy to the table. Romantic comedies, in nature, seem like they are never all that funny. However, considering our limited filmic vocabulary, where most films are either listed as drama or comedy, there isn’t much else to do except pass these kinds of films off as comedies. What a Man is far from the worst offender in this category. It’s humor is certainly a little stale and, at times, juvenile, but it is enough to keep the movie from drowning in the maudlin clichés of the genre. It never attempts to go too big with the laughs, which is fine because it never delivers on that front, but it’s enough to elicit a chuckle or a giggle every so often, no more and no less.
Honestly, What a Man doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously as a comedy (fitting, given the genre) but it never tries to pass itself off as much of a comedy either. Instead, its time is better spent establishing the core relationships of the film. All of the tropes are there: the shy, but winningly handsome leading man, the obnoxious best friend, the one that got away, and the one that’s been right in front of our protagonist all along. None of them mix it up too much, but there’s a certain indescribable charm about their interactions. Even in moments of discord, such as the break-up between Carolin and our protagonist, Alex, there’s some offsetting quirk which makes the most painful moments bearable. However, What a Man is at its best when it allows Alex and Nele to play off one another. The two have that sort of effortless charisma that comes from a lifelong friendship. The two are so comfortable and at peace with one another that it seems impossible that the two had never considered a romantic relationship before. Of course, that is the curse of the romantic comedy: such obvious answers and such dimwitted characters. Honestly, the two characters don’t make sense without each other. What a Man tries to delve into what made Alex become the fearful man that he is, through flashbacks, but they’re strewn throughout the movie haphazardly and don’t provide much depth in the end.
Still, for all of its predictability and its half-hearted backstory, What a Man manages to do something that few romantic comedies have been able to do. It makes you want to say screw it. Screw the formula, screw the clichés, and screw the obvious fact that this is just a movie. It makes you want to believe in a love like that. It makes you want to believe in its characters, their quirks, and their flaws. What a Man is far from a perfect film. In fact, it’s just another romantic comedy. Still, What a Man is so disarmingly charming that its faults don’t stop it from being an incredibly enjoyable film, even if you feel like you’ve seen it all before.