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A guy with Tourette’s syndrome, anotherwith OCD, and a pretty anorexic go on a road trip. No, it’s not the setup of a bad joke, but a tepid German film whose humor nevertheless borders on offensive. For the most part, Ralf Huettner’s Vincent Wants to Sea doesn’t use its titular character’s disease for giggles. But as the threesome sets off on an adventure, there’s just one subtext: that it’s wacky because they’re different.
Vincent (Florian David Fitz, who also wrote the script) is a 27-year-old whose tics and profane outbursts become too much for his politician father (Heino Ferch) after Vincent’s mother dies. So Vincent is sent to an all-purpose institution, where he rooms with Alex (Johannes Allmayer), an obsessive-compulsive who loves classical music and is alarmed by his new space-invader.
Vincent also meets Marie (Karoline Herfurth), a Juliette Binoche twin with an eating disorder and a wild streak. When she lies to their doctor (Katharina Müller-Elmau) about some trouble Vincent gets into and the doc reprimands her with an offscreen threat, Marie steals her car. Dangling the keys in front of Vincent later that night, she agrees to take him to the Italian seacoast.
Why there? Because of Vincent’s mother, whose ashes he carries around in a small tin along with a photograph of her by the water. His father blames him for her death—she started drinking heavily after Vincent was diagnosed and didn’t stop until it took her life. This back story (and there are more heartbreaking details) elicits more sympathy for Vincent than his condition, which doesn’t seem to bother him all that much. He can even make fun of himself, which lends the film some of its few amusing moments. It’s when you’re meant to laugh at other people’s reactions to his behavior that the tone becomes problematic.
Alex’s character, however, is the victim of most of the yuks. Before Vincent and Marie get the chance to take off, he runs out to confront them—and they accidentally hit him with the car. (Haw haw!) Instead of risking him reporting the theft, they kidnap him, which leads to all kinds of on-the-road laughs, from Alex’s insistence on wearing plastic gloves to his freaking out when he feels a cell phone vibrating under his ass. But Marie and Vincent just shake their heads at him, suggestions that Alex is merely uptight and not ill.
But this is a road flick, so there’s plenty of zaniness resulting from what will they do now? predicaments. Vincent’s father freezes his accounts: How will they pay for that gas they already pumped? They get lost: How can they afford a map? Dad and the doc finally chase them down: Will they go with them, defeated? If you don’t know the answers, you haven’t seen enough movies.
The most impressive moments of Vincent Wants to Sea—actually the only impressive moments—highlight mountain ranges and shorelines, not characters. (Huettner could have skimmed the syrup, however, by omitting a Cargo City song about being “there to share your point of view.”) If most of the film is formulaic, the end is simply confounding, with a gut-wrenching turn immediately followed by a feel-good trajectory with more irritating music (this time, Train’s infernal “Hey, Soul Sister”). Lost among the shenanigans is the faint suggestion Fitz’s script makes about unconditional acceptance and friendship. What’s worse than a goofy road-trip movie? A goofy road-trip movie that pretends it’s deeper than it actually is.