“The Four of Us” is an icily clinical German dramedy about what happens when committed but unmarried couples swap partners for a month, with “no sex” as the only rule they agree to follow.
When it throws them back together for a beach weekend, secrets come out — and then more secrets. Sparks fly, wine is tossed into somebody’s face and somebody else projectile vomits either because of the stress or maybe related to that EPT test we’ve glimpsed.
Yes, the “rule” was broken. Yes, let’s get “everything out in the open” (in German, or dubbed into English). Let the chips fall and the recriminations and fists fly. “
“You really enjoy this, don’t you?” “Yeah, kinda.”
The entire enterprise plays as workshopped, checkboxed and algorithm-assisted. But let’s not lean into German stereotypes, even if the filmmakers do.
Janina (Nilam Farooq) is a magazine journalist angling for a promotion, with one of those “If you don’t come in Saturday, don’t bother coming in Sunday” jobs with an axe hanging over her head. For the past month, she’s lived with Nils (Jonas Nay) a sarcastic workaholic real estate agent.
They’re meeting teacher Maria (Paula Kalenberg) and struggling actor Ben (Louis Nitsche) at Nils’ family beach house on the Baltic Sea. As we’ve seen Maria all kissy-face with Ben, we have a clue as to what’s up even if the film’s opening scenes present Nils and Janina as a tetchy, uncommunicative couple with “control” issues.
Janina running to Ben’s arms at the beach, when we’ve just seen him sneaking one last smooch with the blonde teacher, confirms it.
For whatever reason, they were trying “an experiment.” And it backfired. SOMEbody broke the rules. If that pregnancy stick is any indication, somebody REALLY broke the rules.
The script, co-written by director Florian Gottschick and Florian von Bornstädt, contrives all these “twists” and added complications, starting with who knows what and when. Some of them have more information than others. Every “I’m the last to know?” revelation results in a tantrum.
Nils is insufferably smug and condescending. Janina is self-righteous and vegan. Maria wants what she wants and is tired of her mother’s nagging about settling down and raising a family, and Ben is a “failed” actor with all the confidence issues that entails.
The dynamics of this quartet are tepidly interesting, at best. Scenes that almost could be comical aren’t quite. And the payoff is entirely too easy and pat for any viewer to not see it coming an hour before the closing credits.
Farooq and Nay have the most interesting characters and give the only performances that stick.
I’d say “aside from that” except there is no “aside from that.” This isn’t a compelling take on coupleshood — not quirky, not touching, not much of anything at all except disappointing.
Cast: Nilam Farooq, Jonas Nay, Paula Kalenberg and Louis Nitsche
Credits: Directed by Florian Gottschick, scripted by Florian Gottschick and Florian von Bornstädt. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:28