Today’s “Around the World with Netflix” film is a lot like its lead character, a young Amish man in search of his identity, his place in the world. “Rumspringa” follows this lad on that teenage walkabout amongst the sinful temptations of the modern world, and has just as much trouble figuring out who and what it is as he does.
This German film anchored among the Pennsylvania Amish but mostly-set in Berlin begins as a “fish out of water” comedy, lightly mocking the quaint Amish reactions to air travel, convertible cars and raves. But it’s too respectful and tentative to go all-in on mockery. So it turns sensitive and sentimental.
In losing its nerve, it’s neither fish nor fowl, dramedy nor comedy, an is doomed to wander across your Netflix screen like a pilgrim in the comic/cosmic wilderness, a picture with a purpose, but no rewarding way of fulfilling it. It feels like work.
Jacob (Jonas Holdenrieder) is packed off “to the Old Country” to find himself, and with the help of the genealogically-thorough family Bible, meet lost lost kin — a Mennonite uncle, for starters.
But being polite to this gorgeous Berliner (Gizem Emre) in the taxi line leads to losing his “sack,” his luggage. No cash, no clothes save for the ones on his back, no family Bible. He dashes off in pursuit of that stuff and misses the uncle, there to pick him up.
A taxi ride into town ends with an honest confession — “I’m Amish,” he says (in German, or dubbed into English). “My people believe that money has no value!”
In his straw hat and homemade clothes, he may be “Vintage! Retro! Old school!” to the gay trend setters. But he won’t allow photos — “It’s vanity!” And he mistakes a straw-hatted chin-bearded hipster as a fellow buggy-rider, a savior who can solve his predicament.
Alf (Timur Bartels) wants little to do with this “stalker.” But his “save the planet” sometime girlfriend (Tijan Marei) is ALL about the Amish. “Those guys live REALLY sustainably!” So Alf is shamed into helping Jacob track down his luggage, house him and guide him into decadent, partying Berlin.
The elements to a broad farce, something like the Amish portion of the teen comedy “Sex Drive,” are introduced and allowed to wither and die.
Jacob’s ingrained sexism — “But cooking is for WOMENfolk!” — and delicacy about matters young people talk about frankly is brought up, and the jokes just don’t land.
His eagerness to “experience” this time in his life is touched on, is mentioned but not followed through on.
“I went to school for eight years. My Daddy says ‘You’ve learned enough!”
A cute sight gag — he takes on a job as a vegan cafe’s delivery boy — on skates — to search for the missing bag and the beautiful art taste maker (Emre) who accidentally took off with. No joke comes from it.
All the while, the two young men — Jacob and Alf — fall into romantic crises, wondering if each has found “the one” and if their lives with change course, and exactly how they’ll know this is happening. That plays as flat as most of what surrounds it.
Jacob’s “questioning” his destiny, which his father laid out on his departure — Go, have your rumspringa, “come home, get Baptized, marry and grow a beard” — pops up as a here and there afterthought.
I think director and co-writer Mira Thiel wanted to get a comedy out of this, and either lost her nerve or she and her cast just don’t have the knack. An Amish farce showing us partying, sex and and getting stoned should be like shooting a fish-out-of-water in a barrel. This feels like a comedy that never gets past sensitivity training.
Rating: TV-MA, nudity, sex, smoking, profanity
Cast: Jonas Holdenrieder, Timur Bartels, Gizem Emre and Tijan Marei
Credits: Directed by Mira Thiel, scripted by Nika Heinrich, Oskar Minkler and Mira Thiel. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:42