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Wild Mouse
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by Jay Seaver

"Not quite either a roller coaster ride through middle age."
3 stars

As midlife crisis movies go, "Wild Mouse" isn't bad, although that's kind of a sketchy genre in and of itself - how many of them come up with new innsight, or even feel like more than the middle-aged men making reassuring themselves that they're basically okay? This is not exactly one that breaks the mold on that count; it's got some good moments, but also a level of meanness to it that might occasionally make a viewer wonder where writer/director/star Josef Hader is going with it.

Hader plays Georg Endl, the long-time classical music critic at a Vienna newspaper who, just after scoffing at a colleague's idea of a story about how certain pieces have been popularized via rock music and sports anthems, is laid off for being too narrowly focused to justify his high salary. He opts to keep this from his wife Johanna (Pia Hierzegger), a therapist a few years younger than he is fretting about both their closing window to conceive a child and her dismissive but attractive patient Sebastian (Denis Moschitto). Instead, he spends his days at the Prater amusement park, where he runs into high-school classmate Erich (Georg Friedrich) and his Romanian girlfriend Nicoleta (Crina Semciuc), eventually joining Erich in restoring the "Wilde Maus" roller coaster - probably a better use of his time and energy than stalking the paper's editor (Jörg Hartmann), playing out a series of petty aggressions that threaten to escalate into something dangerous.

It may not necessarily be imperative that audiences like Georg so long as they relate to him or find his situation interesting, and that's an area where Hader perhaps underachieves. His misanthrope protagonist never really seems to really like anything - even scenes involving music and writing are more moments to show him as having come down in the world rather than something that illuminates him - and none of the folks around him really have much more to them aside from being convenient ways to suggest he could be better. In some ways, it takes the plot of Tokyo Sonata but doesn't make any effort to make the laid-off husband's shame palpable rather than primarily an excuse for shenanigans that never really take on a life of their own.

That said, if Georg is mostly a jerk in what he does, Hader is able to temper it somewhat in how he acts. There's a flustered uncertainty fighting with his arrogance, and just the right sort of halting pause when he's lying to save face; scenes where he acts as a translator for Erich and Nicoleta are both funny and kind of sad because he seems fond of both and that relationship couldn't be more doomed. And when the film opts to accelerate his breaking down toward the end, he's quite impressive - the comic chops that let him recognize the absurdity of a situation work hand-in-hand with the emotion missing from earlier scenes finally catching up with him.

Those scenes with Erich and Nicoleta are sometimes weird, but also some of the film's best, as Georg Friedrich makes the old classmate feel just functional enough to come across as a potential friend even if he lacks some important underpinnings, while Crina Semciuc gives Nicoleta a light that easily explains why people are drawn to her despite a language barrier even beyond her beauty. Jörg Hartmann's Waller is often a great, under-used foil to Hader's Georg, as the German editor often seems just enough out of sync with the world around him to be awkwardly amusing but able to slide easily into being just as conniving and spiteful as Georg. Pia Hierzegger, meanwhile, gives the sort of performance the makes one wish the movie primarily focused on her because her self-doubt and attempts to fight it not only show more clearly on her face, but are easier to root for than Georg's excess of confidence.

And while the story can be thin, it never actually gets dull; when Georg reaches his low point, Hader finds some quality black comedy, and there a sly sort of joy found in both his misbehavior and every character's particular eccentricity. Missed opportunities abound - it seems like there's material to be mined from Georg hanging out in the very kid-oriented Prater amusement park and working on a roller coaster than the filmmakers find - but it's at least there to be read rather than misfiring.

I don't know that anything is actually cleanly resolved in this film; it is the kind of mid-life-crisis story that is as apt to shrug and say this sort of thing just happens as look for causes and remedies. It's a fairly entertaining example of that type of picture, at least, and some will definitely find things familiar even as they're also absurd.

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originally posted: 03/25/18 06:48:04
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Directed by
  Josef Hader

Written by
  Josef Hader

  Josef Hader
  Pia Hierzegger
  Jrg Hartmann
  Georg Friedrich
  Denis Moschitto
  Crina Semciuc

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