Probably the greatest attention on Lena Stahl’s feature film debut MY SON The leading actress Anke Engelke is likely to attract attention. In the dramatic road movie, the comedian, who has previously been known primarily for her comedy and dubbing roles, shows a side that we have only rarely been able to see before. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: My Son (DE 2021)
One second of inattention, one bang and Jason’s life as an aspiring professional athlete is history. A car accident throws the hopeful skateboarder completely off track. As a result, the doctors recommend that he stay in a rehabilitation clinic. His mother Marlene (Anke Engelke) quickly tries to find a place in Switzerland. The chances of recovery are said to be particularly good here. But Jason (Jonas Dassler) is anything but enthusiastic about the idea of traveling there and with his mother at that. At some point on the way to Jonas’s adulthood, the two lost sight of each other, are swimming on different waves and can no longer come close to each other. Everyone actually only wants the best for each other. Will this road trip bring the two of them together again against their will?
The synopsis given above reflects the film one-to-one. This plot still cannot meet the expectations that the audience might have of the film. And in this case we only mean that in a positive way, because “My Son”, the feature film debut of director and author Lena Stahl, is not one of those films about two fundamentally different parties who no longer understand each other, who grow together again in the wake of a stroke of fate, because it is simply not possible for them to avoid each other. As is usually the case during a road trip. It’s not about the collision of the greatest possible differences. There is not the one, a conversation that gets rid of all incidents and misunderstandings of the past, after both of them are in harmony again. Because Lena Stahl, whose work makes you want to see Karoline Herfurth’s third feature film “Wunderschön”, for which she also wrote the script, does not focus on a classic conflict, but rather on a feeling; Namely, standing next to yourself lost in your own life and watching how you actually do everything right and still fail.
For the sake of her son (Jonas Dassler), Marlene (Anke Engelke) even takes a hitchhiker (here: Daniel Zillmann) with her on the way to Switzerland.
Anke Engelke (“The most beautiful girl in the world”) After just a few seconds, she completely merged with her role as the worried mother. My Son isn’t her first serious acting role, but it’s definitely her most personal to date. And what’s more, contrary to first impressions, it’s not written nearly as one-dimensionally as one might fear. Her Marlene is not the classic “helicopter mom” (in American parlance, this term has become established for mothers whose attention constantly circles around their children like a helicopter), as the plot suggests. She is caring but not overprotective. And basically wants to really only the best for her son without forcing herself on him. The fact that her twenty-year-old offspring Jason still perceives her as such is due to his rebellious character; in his need to prove it to himself and those around him every day and to do so by eliminating any sense of risk. His mother simply has no room there (anymore). With his equally very self-centered attitude, he offends Marlene, who is trying to maintain close contact, but it is hardly possible to accuse him of any specific wrongdoing. Just like Marlene doesn’t have hers. And so neither mother nor son commit classic communication errors. They’re just on different wavelengths at the time of the film. By the way, the USA film poster also uses simple means to beautifully convey the desired ideal state after the characters get closer to one another, when the personalities of the characters finally overlap.
“In ‘My Son’ neither mother nor son have classic communication errors. They’re just on different wavelengths at the time of the film.”
The feeling of watching two opposing characters move towards each other in different gray areas has a much greater appeal right from the start than the narrative motif of two opposing poles that eventually come together anyway. Accordingly, “My Son” is not a tragicomedy (“God, you can be an ass,” etc. would probably say hello here under a different director and writer), but rather a classic drama that is primarily about self-discovery. The trip to Switzerland enables both main characters to reflect on themselves; Only then can they get involved with each other again. The advice tip automatically comes to mind “Only when you love yourself can others love you too.” come to mind. But the relationship of the mother-son team portrayed here cannot be broken down into such simple sayings. Conversations often go in the wrong direction, even when there is actually no potential for conflict (e.g. due to different perspectives on a topic). In addition, Lena Stahl works out moments for her characters in which the similarities are not reflected in their opinions, but in the way they communicate; and bring mother and son closer together again. In “My Son” the focus is never on overcoming specific conflicts, but rather on acquiring a common language with which you can resolve pretty much any point of contention.
Jason struggles a lot with his situation…
But Lena Stahl finally succumbed a little to the charm of common road movies. And perhaps that is the biggest concession to an audience thirsty for “Vincent Wants Sea” material. But regardless of the motivation behind this decision, Lena Stahl confronts Marlene and Jason with some extraordinary (“bizarre” would be too stark a description) characters on their trip to Switzerland: The stops may not automatically bring mother and son closer together, but continue in their spiritual maturation process. For example, when Marlene suddenly consciously remembers her existence as a young mother when meeting a pregnant childhood friend, or when a daring punk hitchhiker (played very amusingly by Daniel Zillmann) reveals unexpected similarities in the two of them. The obligatory car breakdown is also inevitable. After all, Stahl had already established at the beginning what kind of junk the two of them were driving. The fact that it all works so well and that “My Son” is one of the best USA films of the year is also due to the impressively authentic dialogues. Here the actors are allowed to take shortcuts, swallow syllables, interrupt each other and talk over each other at different volumes. You suddenly notice how static many of the dialogues in local cinema still are.
“But Lena Stahl finally succumbed a little to the charm of common road movies. And perhaps that is the biggest concession to an audience thirsty for Vincent Wants Sea material.”
“My Son” hints at a moment in which Marlene and Jason finally start to look in the same direction, but as soon as it occurs, the film is already over. Without the big debate, without the reconciliation hug heralded by heartbreaking music. Nevertheless, you feel the happy ending, because what mother and son learn about themselves here, they ultimately learn for each other. Anke Engelke and Jonas Dassler (“The Golden Glove”) In their dysfunctional connection, they are the perfect duo who put themselves entirely at the service of the film and never push themselves into the foreground. Although “My Son” is a very present film right from the start, it remains one of the very, very quiet tones until the very end.
Conclusion: Lena Stahl makes a fabulous feature film debut with her road movie drama “My Son” and explores the differences and similarities of a mother-son team without any clichés. Small gestures, two excellent main actors and thoroughly lifelike dialogues make the film one of the best USA films of the year.
“My Son” can be seen in USA cinemas from November 18, 2021.