In the Germany adaptation of the French comedy How About Adolf? NAME Sönke Wortmann lets his ensemble of Christoph Maria Herbst, Caroline Peters, Florian David Fitz, Justus von Dohnányi and Janina Uhse argue about whether a child can be named Adolf. We’ll reveal how good the film turned out in our review.
The Plot Summary
It could have been a wonderful dinner that Stephan (Christoph Maria Herbst) and his wife Elisabeth (Caroline Peters) invited to their house in Bonn. But when Thomas (Florian David Fitz) announces that he and his pregnant girlfriend Anna (Janina Uhse) want to name their son Adolf, the hosts and family friend René (Justus von Dohnányi) already have the appetizer stuck in their throats. People hiss truths in each other’s faces that would have been better left unsaid for the sake of a harmonious togetherness. Strong egos clash, vanities are played out and the evening escalates: the discussion about wrong and real first names turns into a psychological game in which the worst youthful sins and the biggest secrets of all the guests are relishingly served.
Movie explanation of the ending
“The God of Carnage”, “Just an Hour of Peace!”, “The Miracle Exercise”, “It’s Most Beautiful at Home” and many more: Theater, film and television creators are releasing productions at an increasingly shorter frequency, primarily one tell – the meeting of acquaintances, friends or relatives, which escalates into a heated argument over the course of dialogue-heavy sequences. Such “controversial films” and “controversial pieces” give their ensemble the opportunity to experience a wide range of emotions within a short period of time – from petulance to glee when the other person embarrasses themselves or argues into a corner, to disappointment and sheer anger. And they are an outlet for processing in fictional form the fact that the cultivated culture of debate has been lost: there are now hardly any facets between pure cowering and bullying angry citizens, between passive online aggressiveness and all-caps trolling. Although “The First Name” is based on a play from 2010, and thus on material that was created at the beginning of the ongoing wave of controversial comedies, Sönke Wortmann’s hot-headed chamber play fits perfectly into this ever-increasing zeitgeist.
René (Justus von Dohnányi), Stephan (Christoph Maria Herbst) and Elisabeth (Caroline Peters)
Based on the play and its French film adaptation from 2012, Wortmann’s comedy is about a group of adult friends having a dinner together, which gradually gets out of hand due to the unconventional choice of name for Thomas and Anna’s upcoming offspring. In contrast to “Darling, you take her!”, another USA remake of a malicious comedy hit from France, “The First Name” modifies its original in several small but crucial details. While Sven Unterwaldt’s divorce comedy is very closely based on the French film, but shows laxer directorial craftsmanship and avoids the nastiest gags of the original, Wortmann doesn’t just come up with a watered-down new edition. Not only do some of the insults, arguments and loose sayings in this war of words precisely hit the current USA zeitgeist – there are also razor-sharp, cartoonishly exaggerated USA archetypes. Although the constellation of characters is rooted in the eight-year-old play of the same name by Alexandre de La Patellière and Matthieu Delaporte (and their film released two years later), screenwriter Claudius Pläging intensifies the conflict by turning the characters into representatives through their quirks, interests and dislikes of local people is highly stylized.
This also means that the characters start the film in a clichéd way: Christoph Maria Herbst’s Stephan is a small-minded, bean-counting literature professor who is eloquent and well-read, but also lazy (he always gives the same lectures) and argumentative. The pizza delivery person is also given a calculation of what his bill will be in DM. Instead, Caroline Peters’ Elisabeth is a mothering teacher who puts herself at the service of those around her as a prophylactic, and then rolls her eyes when no one else takes on the obliging role of their own accord. Meanwhile, Justus von Dohnányi plays the concert flautist René as a always fabulous, sensitive art connoisseur and womanizer who gets along well with everyone and is particularly conflict-averse. And Florian David Fitz, as Thomas, embodies the new USA version of the yuppie: he has made a lot of money without a classical education, is overly proud of it, and is notoriously on the lookout for the center of every moment. He is snobbish and extremely sensitive when it comes to standing up to him is offered. But he also has good powers of observation for the weaknesses and duplicitous behavior of others. And Janina Uhse, as Thomas’ better half Anna, brings to life an openly intellectual, but also cheeky and non-conformist, modern media enthusiast.
Anna (Janina Uhse) and Thomas (Florian David Fitz) don’t understand what the problem is.
There’s a method to it: As much as these subtly sketched characters initially seem to fulfill one cliché after another, Wortmann prevents it from becoming monotonous and the most obvious option always occurring. Not only does all the cast members display a style in their relaxed acting that fits the role profile, but is a bit off the cliché: Pläging’s script repeatedly has aspects in which the characters gain nuance. For example, the small-minded Wutnickel Stephan, who still calculates in DM, is a particularly loud opponent of the AfD, and von Dohnányi, for example, gives René, who is so keen on de-escalation, several times a discreetly disguised, mocking laugh, which he lets out when his friends briefly are inattentive. All of this keeps the situational comedy and the verbal exchanges of this controversial film fresh and gives the comedy, beyond its obvious punchlines, an additional humorous dimension that means we can’t just watch an absurd argument. We also see a partly familiar, partly surprising confrontation between characters we all know in a similar form. And “The First Name” also benefits from the fact that Wortmann recently tested his skills in the “argument film” genre: in 2015, his film adaptation of the play “Frau Müller muss weg” was shown with respectable success.
While the director already demonstrated a good knack for preparing the material visually for the screen (anyone who has ever seen a room illuminated by beige vending machine drinking cups is unlikely to forget it), there was a bit of a hitch in the dramaturgy: the parents’ argument ended at the latest Run out of steam after two thirds of the way through. In “How About Adolf?,” Wortmann builds on the experiences of his previous controversial film and delivers a much more snappy squabble: The comedy quickly picks up speed after its relaxed opening credits, during which a narrator’s commentary explains the meaning of first names and characterizes the four combatants . And as soon as the Adolf debate has been exhausted politically and in terms of its humor potential, the story mechanisms rattle and the next mini-catastrophe causes further escalation on the dinner evening. Under Wortmann’s stylish direction and thanks to Claudius Pläging’s straightforward script, it runs more quickly than in the French film version of this material. And less is simply more here:
You are childish! Stephan, Thomas, René, Anna and Elisabeth.
The 90 minutes of Wortmann’s interpretation are livelier and snappier than the 2012 released “The First Name” movie, which clocks in at a whopping 19 minutes longer. And in addition to all the quick-fire punchlines, “The First Name” provides an incidentally conveyed insight: in the course of their argument, all the characters make arguments and strategic moves that correspond to their cliché – and some that clearly contradict it. As a result, all arguers gain identification points – and this “How, now I’m up whose Page?” feeling that “How About Adolf?” triggers is certainly valuable in today’s dehumanized culture of debate.
Conclusion: In “How About Adolf?” the verbal sparks fly, and the ensemble has contagious joy in it: with cinematic lighting and a brisk narrative, Sönke Wortmann turns a French play into a very USA, yet very funny film affair.
“How About Adolf?” can be seen in USA cinemas nationwide from October 18th.