A foreign accent, an eccentric cast, some gorgeous scenery and a lighthearted joie de vivre attitude about dark subjects: These are a few of the elements necessary for constructing an art-house crowd-pleaser. Vincent Wants to Sea (Vincent Will Meer) is just such a film. Having nabbed Outstanding Feature and Best Actor at the 2011 German Film Awards (while nailing down nominations for Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Screenplay), Vincent is now pulling into America looking for easily charmed audiences.
When Marie steals the keys to Dr. Rose’s car, proposing a little unsanctioned excursion, Vincent seizes on the opportunity to put his mother’s soul to rest. The only hitch in the plan comes when fastidious Alexander discovers the two about to go on the lam. He’s initially kidnapped, but he soon becomes a willing participant in the cross-European journey. Naturally, Dr. Rose goes out in pursuit of the trio, accompanied by Vincent’s not-so-happy father, who’s mostly interested in covering up any hint of scandal. Look at it sideways, and you’ve got a near-perfect Germanic re-creation of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: the rule-breaking hero, the hot girl, the persnickety sidekick, the fancy car, the nasty parental figure in hot pursuit. Hard to say if that was intentional on the part of the filmmakers, but it’s worth noting.
While Vincent Wants to Sea doesn’t entirely avoid the darker aspects of its main characters’ various problems, it does stop short of the twee concept that an American film would surely have fallen victim to—namely, the idea that “crazy” people are actually the universe’s greatest source of wisdom and sagacity. Vincent doesn’t try to peddle that soap. It’s a mostly sanitized portrait of mental illness, but it’s not patronizing, and it heads in an honest enough direction. While Vincent and Alexander are afflicted with relatively harmless personality tics, Marie’s anorexia is more troubling. It’s serious enough that it’s starting to become a real drain on her physical form. It is for this reason that Dr. Rose knows she must locate her escaped patients. And soon.
The story offered up in Vincent Wants to Sea (a bad metaphorical translation on the original German pun) is transparently formulaic. We know basically every twist in the road before it arrives. But that familiarity ends up adding a lot to the film’s likability. It is, as was mentioned at the start, an art-house crowd-pleaser. What should be worn-out and unrealistic comes across as enjoyable and optimistic thanks to some well-balanced humor, some heartfelt performances and a technical sheen that keeps Europe’s roadways looking picturesque as a postcard.