"Young Goethe in Love" has an awesome array of authentic settings that drench the film in period atmosphere and capable stars Alexander Fehling in the title role and Miriam Stein playing Goethe's great love and muse Lotte Buff. Yet it drowns in swoony clichés.
The first half-hour, a foray in increasingly tedious jauntiness, finds Goethe, the struggling poet and playwright, under pressure from his dour lawyer father to follow in his footsteps. About the time Goethe begins to buckle down to law he encounters the raven-haired Lotte, who has the singing voice of an angel and a mischievous manner. In trite old-movie style she repeatedly insults him for no apparent reason — always an indicator that the two shall fall madly in love, which they so predictably do.
There's a hitch, of course. Lotte is the daughter of a recently widowed, desperately impoverished member of the landed gentry with seven more children, all younger than Lotte. Will Lotte follow her heart or will she agree to marry a priggish but wealthy councilor-at-law (Moritz Bleibtreu) and thereby ensure her and her family's future?
Inspired by Goethe's loosely autobiographical breakthrough novel, "The Sorrows of Young Werther," the film has the makings of a potent romantic saga, but writer-director Philipp Stolzl and his co-writers Alexander Dydyna and Christoph Muller have made a crucial mistake in tone. Instead of underplaying the story's escalating tempestuousness it pushes it over the top; time and again the film begins to catch fire only to be doused in silliness.
This is especially disappointing since Stolzl's last film, "North Face," was so exciting, a Nazi-era mountain-climbing competition with much at stake.
"Young Goethe in Love." No MPAA rating. In German with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. At selected theaters.