Sometimes silly, sometimes hilariously uncomfortable and sometimes heartwarming, Fashion Victims (Reine Geschmacksache) is the 2007 German comedy from writer/director Ingo Rasper. Short on sense but high on hijinks, it has a quirky charm that overcomes its improbable story. And while I'd initially classify the film as farce, it's a farce that sneaks up on you with feeling.
Wolfgang (Edgar Selge) is unhappy with life at home and at work, where he's afraid of change. Stuck in his boys-club mentality, the veteran refuses to challenge himself by selling his company's newer, hipper line: the Grazilla label, which is aimed at younger clientele. He insists on sticking to his traditional selling tactics with an age-old line, the more conservative (yet just as unfortunately named) Goldberger Classic label ("Our target is the elegant woman over 40 with problem zones, right?"). Having lost his passion long ago, Wolfgang becomes increasingly irritated when go-getter Steven (Roman Knizka)--his younger, more successful, more attractive co-worker--starts to invade his sales turf.
Back at home, Wolfgang is equally agitated by wife Erika (Franziska Walser), who just wants their damn bathroom to be remodeled. Already visibly unhappy with their union, she starts to further question their marriage as Wolfgang gets angrier--much to the delight of possessive friend Brigitta (Traute Höss), a snoopy inn owner with an expensive interest in Russia. Like a live-action Patty and Selma, she lurks in the background waiting for Wolfgang to slip up--aching for any chance to relish his misfortune as she encourages Erika to get a divorce.
Meanwhile, young horoscope writer Karsten (Florian Bartholomäi) becomes infuriated with dad Wolfgang, who cancels his son's trip to Spain. Seems dad is driving on a suspended license, so he enlists his son to be a chauffer (unfortunately for Karsten, in an automatic Benz). It's part of dad's effort to help one-up Steven, who is using his charm (and some questionable sales tactics) to take over Wolfgang's clients. As if the situation wasn't madcap enough, Steven and Karsten--initially unaware of the other's identity--meet by chance and hit it off, flirting their way through a burgeoning romance that could complicate Karsten's life in more ways than one.
In the hands of a less capable cast, Fashion Victims would flounder with its absurdity. The silly situations and final showdown--where every key player winds up at Brigitta's inn for a zany finish--asks a lot of you. The same can be said of the film's setup, where we're asked to accept some pretty unbelievable behavior (in addition to Wolfgang's attitude, he makes some unfortunate financial decisions). But if you can get past the film's somewhat flawed first third (which has a lot of yelling--you'll want to strangle Wolfie), Fashion Victims becomes too cute to resist--and offers up a few types of successful humor.
The film sparks to life when Karsten meets Steven at the dry cleaners--their chemistry is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, and their storyline steals the show. Both actors play perfectly off each other: Knizka is the charming pursuer (you'll easily surrender to his spell) and Bartholomäi is the nervous and excited object of his affection. The two will remind you of what it's like to have a crush--you can feel yourself having butterflies along with them.
Back in the boutiques, Wolfgang exhibits newfound energy as Steven threatens his livelihood--leading to a few hysterical scenes involving clients and customers. But as Wolfgang gets more caught up with work, he starts to further alienate his wife. And how will both parents react when faced with their son's sexuality? If Wolfgang's observation of Steven is any indication ("That faggot is stealing my customers!"), things don't look so good for Karsten.
I'd hardly call myself a fan of screwball comedy, and it might be unfair to pigeonhole Fashion Victims in that category. The film isn't as outlandish as it could have been, and isn't as predictable as it might first appear (one plot line is thankfully "discovered" well before the finish, giving the characters more room to breathe). The script hints at the perils of false labels, an intentional wink to those along for the merry ride. With equal doses of whimsy and warmth, this fun flick wears many labels--but is still the perfect fit.