Young Goethe in Love: Germany’s Sturm und Drang Rock Star

That this film was originally titled Goethe! should give you a sense of how much silly Sturm und Drang boosterism awaits. A biopic more fiction than fact, the movie opens in 1772, when the 23-year-old aspiring poet and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Alexander Fehling) flunks his bar exam; as punishment, he’s booted out of Frankfurt by his father to dull Wetzlar, where he works as a county clerk. He forms a deep bond with a stuttering colleague and fellow sensitive soul, Wilhelm (Volker Bruch), who takes Johann to a dance where he meets earthy, opinionated Lotte (Miriam Stein). After a sing-along around the clavichord with Lotte and her seven younger siblings, Johann nervously recites his verse to his darling; tender lovemaking in the woods soon follows. But out of financial necessity, Lotte must marry Johann’s superior, the philistine Albert (Moritz Bleibtreu). Art triumphs when Johann tries to exorcise his pain by writing The Sorrows of Young Werther. No literary-period-piece cliché is spared in Philipp Stölzl’s film, from the swell of violin strings to the italicized voiceover, Johann reading his text as it’s furiously being composed. And yet for all its obtuse choices, there’s still something commendable, if daffy, about trying to turn the high holy father of German literature into a rock star, as when crowds mob his landau upon his return to Frankfurt, chanting, “Johann! Johann! Johann!”