Five men visit a fitness centre in Berlin, not knowing each other at first, but eventually becoming friends. They discover what it means to be in a relationship, to commit to another person, to realize who you really are. The English title reflects 'Sex and the City" but from a more amusing, male perspective, while the literal English translation 'Men’s Hearts" provides a clearer idea of the story.
GERMAN FILM FESTIVAL: No matter what the title sounds like, this is not quite a German homage to Sex in the City, but you know, with men.
For starters, Sex in the City was about celebrating a kind of sisterhood; while women searched for the perfect mate, they would always, no matter what ups and downs they encountered on the way to the alter, have their girlfriends. The show satirised urban dating rituals and sexual fashions (and fetishes); meanwhile it positively worshipped a certain kind of metropolitan upper middle class (let’s not kid ourselves) life style.
So Simon Verhoeven’s film – he wrote, directed and write the music - isn’t about a group of buddies who get together on a regular basis over a schnapps to wonder out loud about how hard it is to land/keep/stay interested in a woman (or women). It’s not then, a movie about a brotherhood; indeed the blokes that populate this movie have to confront their issues on their own until the time comes to face the women in their lives. In that sense, it’s an unfashionably optimistic movie about romance!
Verhoeven adopts a Magnolia/Nashville type set-up where we drop in and out of a half dozen storylines and follow the characters, all a cross-section of masculine types, as they negotiate their own private issues (and pointedly the only thing the characters have in common is that symbol of masculine identity, the local gym). The satire doesn’t seem designed to mock contemporary mores. Indeed the film is so kind and gentle to its characters it’s hardly a satire at all. Still, it is a film about how men hide their feelings and mask their fears and step around their own needs out of a desire to appear desirable. At least most of the gags are about how the blokes get into trouble by trying too hard.
There’s nerdy Gunther (Christian Ulmen) who is to romance what a train-wreck is to efficient public transport. He develops a crush on Susanne (Nadja Uhl), separated from her angry husband, Roland (Wotan Wilke Mohring). Complacent Phil (Maxim Mehmet) takes pretty kindergarten teacher Nina (Jana Pallaske) for granted until he learns of her pregnancy. Niklas (Florian David Fitz) fears his impeding nuptials to Laura (Liane Forestieri) and flirts with an affair. In the films best and funniest sub-plot, an over-weight superannuated pop star Bruce Berger (Justus Von Dohnanyi) develops a man crush on the quare-jawed Jerome (Til Schweiger), a record producer who seems to find sex with beautiful women an empty experience.
There’s a sense that the movie is edging around sex and relationships (and there is very little bed hopping and what there isn’t especially sexy; its TV commercial innocuous). When something unpleasant or unsettling does emerge from a storyline, like a personal betrayal, the possibility of an abortion"¦its all settled easily and politely, without so much of a tear. Still, there is some real emotion and pathos in Roland’s story – it turns out his violence has its roots in trauma; an engine driver, his train killed a man in an accident.
Shot with the same honey and chocolate tones of Sex in the City, Men in the City is pretty to look at, fast moving, and amusing without being laugh out loud funny. It may be a function of the translation, but the humour isn’t based in the lines, but the situations and sight gags. Still, they can be pretty bold and outrageous. One plot is resolved when a character gets thrown into a tank full of crocodiles and this is juxtaposed with a terrifying (and not at all funny) traffic accident. It’s not hard to like a movie that cherishes such absurd possibilities. It just seems a pity that its view of men and women seems rooted in the self-congratulatory tone of magazine self-help columns.