Josef Hader’s mid-life meltdown comedy has just enough madcap laughs for it to pass muster.
A tempered, nervous laughter could be felt throughout the 2017 Berlinale screening of Josef Hader’s Vienna-set directorial debut, Wild Mouse, as it’s about a haughty, mid-life arts journalist – famous for his witty, poison pen takedowns – who is given the boot from his cushy newspaper job.
Yet it soon becomes clear that the film isn’t interested in the world of journalism beyond landing a couple of catty barbs (mainly at young journalists who have mastered the art of bullshitting), as it is more focused on the accelerated meltdown of a man who is swiftly and aggressively displaced from his calming bourgeois bubble.
Hader himself plays Georg, a crotchety narcissist with a light hunchback and ovular green “fashion” glasses who doesn’t seem to be able to deal with the fact that his life has descended into a violent tailspin. He instead acts on booze-fuelled instinct which results in a host of lightly madcap situations – smashed cars, minor arrests, nudity, the usual. But the film does pose serious questions about dedicating your life to a single pursuit which you’ve been lucky enough to parlay into a paying job. If you wake up from the dream before it ends, what to do with the remainder of the night?
The story is primed for dry and deadpan laffs. It’s a spray-gun attack on the male ego that plays like a semi-successful mid-’90s Woody Allen movie – one of the sweary ones. It’s naggingly light stuff. What the film lacks is emotional contrasts – there are no reasons to care whether Georg will end up mimicking the failed suicide attempt of his pal, which involved wandering out into a vast snowscape with a bottle of bourbon and allowing cruel nature to take its course.
The film, too, lets our disheveled off very lightly, the scuffles into which he lands himself are trivial to say the least. His constant recourse to lying comes across as a cheap deus ex machina, a way to stir up fraught tensions with his wife who, at the age of 40, has decided she wants a child. While Georg is essentially a lovable, silver-tongued rogue who has wandered a little too far off piste, his wife Johanna (Pia Hierzegger) is no saint either. Her psychiatry practice is floundering, she’s has a healthy fondness for red wine, and her desperation to get pregnant sends her into the arms of a number of unlikely candidates. Their character flaws are built into the foundation of their now-stale relationship.
The Wild Mouse of the title is a reference to a funfair rollercoaster that Georg buys into so he has something to do with his days. He hasn’t told his wife he’s been made redundant, so he can’t hang around the house any more. Hader doesn’t shoot for any big metaphorical “life is a rollercoaster” affirmation, but conversely he’s so softly-softly with the material that this entire sub-plot translates as just random, wacky happenstance. It’s amusing rather than funny, clever rather than profound, impressive rather than enjoyable.
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