Review: German Rom-Com 'What A Man' Feels Like A Remake Of A Terrible '90s American Movie That Never Happened

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by Gabe Toro
November 29, 2012 7:02 PM
8 Comments
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Fetishize it all you want: foreign audiences aren’t that much more selective than American ones. Box office trends have cemented this: garbage like the “Twilight” series steadily earned more internationally than stateside, a pattern mimicked by most generic blockbusters, particularly with the overseas embrace of the tacky 3D format. Of course, one could argue that “Twilight” is an American brand corrupting the world, but it would neglect homegrown offal like “What A Man,” a German time-waster brought to our shores by Fox International, one that reflects that the cheap seats are the same in any language.

Writer-director Matthais Schweighofer stars as Alex, a boyish schoolteacher who seems to have success relating to his kids as a gentle babysitter more than an actual educator -- must be the school systems. His lightweight personality extends to his home life, as girlfriend Carolin (Mavie Horbiger) bullies him and chastises his manhood all around. When he takes her to his friend’s birthday party, she proceeds to complain about the partygoers around her, who apparently eat too loud. Fascinating that she’s demonized by this perfectly average faux pas, as she rants and raves and causes a scene. It would be far more interesting, from a character-building perspective, if we were at any point allowed to take her side, if her character were not such an obviously demonic shrew.

Through a particularly unprintable sex injury, Carolin ends up in the hospital, where she’s forced to confess her dalliances with hunky next door neighbor Jens (Thomas Kretschmann). A commercial photographer (not to mention a Teutonic superman of sorts), Jens has found success with his colorful billboard tableaux, which Alex sees most every time he leaves the apartment. These massive photos usually feature some cartoony representation of courtship, and the man is usually far more tall and buff than the unassuming Alex. The fact that the woman is also stereotypically buxom and blonde seems to go unnoticed. Nor does anyone mention that this photographer seems to be able to score massive billboard space all over Germany, and yet shares an apartment building with a middle-class teacher like Alex.

Alex embarks on a quest to win Carolin back, even though we already know that character is a two-timing wasteland of a person. This suspense-less tract is filled with sequences of Alex experimenting with various masculinity-reaffirming activities, some of which (paintball?) seem decidedly arbitrary, as far as manliness goes. It’s a 1990s American studio movie-version of what today’s male heterosexuality is, cemented by Alex, clad in yesterday’s hip-hop fashion and approaching a gyrating dancer with the English language come-on, “Do you want to see my bling bling?”

It’s a good thing Alex has lifelong friend Nele (Sibel Kekilli) around to soothe his feelings of failure. Oh, hey, Nele is involved in an emotionally-distant relationship of her own. Oh, and Nele is also classically quite beautiful. She’s also sweet, funny and they have an easygoing chemistry. Huh. What could happen here? The movie trades one inevitability for another, as the two actually hook up a third of the way into the narrative, then begin to invent reasons for which they should not see each other. Movie reasons, but reasons nonetheless.

“What A Man” is as broad as they come, highlighted by a score that offers repeated riffs of the melody of the '90s pop hit “What A Man” as Alex attends masculinity seminars in the woods, hacking at trees for the benefit of a madcap instructor who belongs in a lesser Todd Phillips comedy. Of course, there’s no real growth that Alex needs to show. He merely needs to commit, with the movie’s insistence that it was everyone else around him who was problematic. Probably true, but without those broad hijinks, we’d have a twenty-minute movie. Probably a more enjoyable one as well. [D]

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8 Comments

  • tam | November 30, 2012 1:44 PMReply

    >particularly with the overseas embrace of the tacky 3D format<

    How about informing yourself before posting something like that? A lot of movies are only shown in 3D even if a 2D version exists. If you want to see the movie then you're forced to watch it in 3D. Do you think it's fun to pay so much money?

  • isa | November 30, 2012 9:01 AMReply

    oh mein gott, was solls. der film ist ja nun keine tiefgründige, weltverändernde Geschichte und das sollte er wohl auch nicht werden. vielmehr ging es darum ein breites publikum mehr oder weniger trivial zu unterhalten und das ist gelungen. ich mag den film, aber als großartiges meisterwerk würde ich ihn auch nicht bezeichnen. allerdings wäre es doch nett, wenn in diesem artikel ein wenig mehr sorgfalt bei der rechtschreibung der namen an den tag gelegt worden wäre. man muss ja nicht gleich alles schlecht machen ;)

  • anonyme | November 30, 2012 7:30 AMReply

    I always knew that you Americans have no taste. But then you do not even understand such a terrific movie like "What a Man". I pity really for all of you. The worst review I've ever read! You should learn to write proper reviews.

  • Anonym | November 30, 2012 3:02 PM

    Go to bed, Matthias.

  • SomeGermanGuy | November 30, 2012 6:06 AMReply

    This is EXACTLY what I thought about this piece of garbage!
    I'm so very ashamed of Germany ...
    SORRY FOLKS

  • Ugh | November 30, 2012 4:36 AMReply

    But it's a Foreign film.... so what are it's Oscar chances? Certainly stands a better chance than 'The Master' right? I mean all Europeans are SOOOOO cultured.

  • asannakenoaie | November 30, 2012 3:05 PM

    I think every German film that has entered the Oscars is a hundred times better than this piece of crap. I am a German myself and can safely say that anyone over here, that even remotely has a REAL interest in movies regards this movie (and all the others by Mr. Schweighöfer) as garbage. Most of the cinema-goers want this kind of trope-filled moneygrabber, though. I guess it is the same everywhere.

  • sfa | November 29, 2012 11:28 PMReply

    sounds useless.

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