To the cynical, Oh Boy is a frustrating non-event that follows an aimless guy around for a day as he attempts, and fails, to get a coffee in Berlin (amongst other distractions). But this would be wildly missing the point. Only could you be this disenchanted by Jan Ole Gerster’s poignant portrayal of early adulthood if you have never been a twenty-something suffering from the uncomfortably familiar ‘lost’ syndrome it so warrantably depicts. Already compared to vintage Woody Allen and Jim Jarmusch, Oh Boy takes after Frances Ha and looks to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours in its episodic structure and narrative of a young adult finding their way. Tallying up awards, this independent low-budget sleeper hit comes after Gerster’s decision to try out something simple and stick to what he knows – the streets and people of Berlin. His directorial debut is immensely personal and wondrously subtle. Shot in black and white, the sunny streets of Berlin are lent a romantic timelessness and nostalgia, contrary to the city’s youthful and edgy modern image. With a playful jazz soundtrack, the film immerses you in the world of Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling) as he breaks up with his girlfriend, is written off as emotionally unstable by an abrasive psychologist following a drink-driving offence, and is cut off from the allowance he received deceitfully for two years from his wealthy father while not actually at law school.
Tender moments are amplified by their rarity, such as a hug from a drug dealer’s grandmother after trying out her massage chair. Its slow pace reflects Niko’s idleness as he drifts about the city ‘thinking’. Various encounters, including one with an old school colleague and a reminiscing drunk, force Niko to reflect on his own situation. Oh Boy begins as a humorous and pithy capsule of life – a college drop out’s listlessness and dissatisfaction stemming from lack of occupation and excitement – before metamorphosing into a touching portrait of post-war Berlin. Niko finally gets his coffee; although what’s been accomplished is so understated it’s easily overlooked.