Set in the late 18th century, this unremarkable German biopic (originally titled Goethe!) focuses on the events that initiated the career of poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Alexander Fehling). The film opens with a 23-year-old Goethe at his Ph.D defense, which he immediately fails due to an obvious lack of serious study. The charming scamp’s predilection for poetry over legal tomes is ignored by his strict and influential father who thinks that “poetry is for women” and forces him into taking a file clerk-type job at a law firm in Wetzlar. Goethe befriends a stutterer and falls in love with beautiful country girl Lotte Buff (Miriam Stein) who also happens to catch the eye of his cartoonishly evil boss. The poet unknowingly assists said boss with a proposal to Lotte, which she accepts for the benefit of her seven impoverished siblings, and the heartsick couple are forced to love each other from afar. The boss is aware of his bride-to-be’s affections for Goethe and thus tricks his employee into an illegal duel-by-pistols, which lands Goethe in jail where he contemplates suicide while composing what will become The Sorrows of Young Werther. He mails the manuscript to Lotte as a love letter, is released from prison by his father six months later, and returns to Frankfurt where, upon his arrival, a mob surrounds a bookstore hoping to get a copy of Sorrows. Turns out that Lotte had the manuscript published and it has become a sensation. The crowd surrounds Goethe, who climbs atop his carriage to sign books as his beaming father suddenly accepts him and repeatedly brags to random townspeople, “That’s my son.” The film ends with titles that include “Werther’s story sparked off a youth movement and led to a wave of suicides…” If the film had a subtext then that fact would have been interesting, but it merely serves as an odd bit of trivia within the most standard of biopics that has all of its emotional content dictated by its overwrought score. I’ll just come out and say it: this film was made for an older, non-discriminating crowd. See at your own risk.
Young Goethe in Love opens today at the Ritz at the Bourse.