Coming of age stories are as timeless as life itself. Everybody has one so there’s a built in fascination and voyeuristic interest with every addition to the already considerable number of films that chronicle troubled teens as their hormones, body parts and relationships fly through the unstoppable rollercoaster of adolescence. Traditional boy-girl passages are trying enough, but add society’s mores to the sins of the flesh for budding same-sex psyches and there’s enough personal angst and drag unleashed to keep psychiatrists and, sadly, undertakers, busy for ever.
Summer Storm is director/co-writer Marco Kreuzpaintner’s entry into the “I’m not gay but my boyfriend is” genre. It has much to admire, including setting the action around a rowing competition rather than the more usual educational backdrop, but can’t rise above the script’s puberty parade and so merely stops rather than concludes Tobi’s (Robert Stadlober, whose captivating physique and range of emotion would be enough to give any man pause to consider a walk on the wild side) societal and self-made crises.
The opening sequence, which includes Nada Surf’s Blonde on Blonde (“Cats and Dogs are coming down,” musically foreshadowing the climax), is a wonderful montage of two young men working on the rings, toning their abs with sit-ups, jumping and stretching. Daniel Gottschalk’s camera fills the screen with shorts, t shirts and muscular legs to wordlessly portray the athleticism, camaraderie and testosterone of Tobi and best friend Achim (Kostja Ullmann). But before you can say “boys will be boys” the buds have their pants around their ankles and “choke their lusty chickens” side by side while serving a “clean up the boat house” punishment meted out by coach Hansi (Jürgen Tonkel, whose line “I’m such a dolt,” is spot on). Punishment indeed.
Achim’s female love interest is Sandra (Miriam Morgenstern) who dotes on him but soon starts to wish that Tobi would leave her man alone. Tobi’s “date” is Anke (Alicja Bachleda-Curus) who becomes the victim of her boyfriend’s lying brag to Achim that they have slept together – a more surefire way of getting dumped doesn’t exist.
Away they all go to boat camp where the major complication is the last-minute replacement of the reportedly “loose” girls’ team from Berlin with the “Queerstrokes,” team who bring new meaning to the rower’s mantra: “Pull and chop.”
Having set the stage for all manner of hilarity and social comment, the script frequently sails off course in the detail. Despite their name, rainbow emblem on the team jerseys, and buff bods that invite closer examination, the “straight” crowd has to be told that “Queer also means gay.” Sure.
Then the foreskin caught in the zipper gag seems about as plot enhancing as the bare-breasted sun worshipper that earns the totally hetero (er, mostly) admiration of the “Rambo” squad. From all of this emerges the sub-plot of total jock and rich kid Georg (Tristano Casanova who provides the film’s finest acting) becoming the target of career-queer Oli (Ludwig Blochberger), who brags that “straight boys make a great challenge.” Still, this sets up the film’s funniest moment when the “methinks he doth protest too much” Georg inadvertently presents a bouquet of flowers to his suitor even as the campily dressed homo chefs expertly slice up an enormous zucchini.
The race soon slips to the back burner. Relationship roulette sends Tobi reeling from Achim’s rejection of a kiss into the full-service arms of Leo (Marlon Kittel), a willing member from La Petite Étoile only to have to blurt out his desire for men to Anke as she, finally, decides to bed her beau in the bushes.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a rumble in the jungle where Tobi has his Judas moment and asserts “I am not gay.” Next, the heavens open forcing everyone into the conveniently empty youth hostel where Georg’s disappearance (he had an unwanted whisker-framed kiss of his own to deal with) leads to a soggy manhunt for the startled coxswain.
Finally the two friends have it out and Tobi realizes that his desire for Achim must remain a fantasy so he goes and sits fully clothed in the shower until his new-found love takes him to bed and kisses his sun burn better. Happily, there follows a few moments of cinematic magic as the camera paints the canvass of who’s sleeping with whom – or not; the empty camp, the unused virginal blanket and the wood plank dock where Tobi finally expressed his sexual identity. Marvellous.
That just left the banana jokes to lighten the tone and the race to complete the circle, but not before a twist that put Georg at the helm of the queerest boat in Germany.
Summer Storm is always a pleasure to watch but too often crosses the line of the believable for the quick laugh. Enjoy it for its gaily frolicking tone.