Young Goethe In Love tells the love story between the great German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the woman who inspired one of his masterpieces, but with considerable (and unsurprising) artistic and biographical liberties.
When a young Johann Wolfgang fails his law exams, he is sent to work at a court in the country, where he indulges himself in his passion of poetry, and, of course, the beautiful Charlotte Buff. His ambitions to be a writer are thwarted by those around him, except by, predictably, Charlotte.
Timelines are tampered with, as they often are in movies of this genre, making it more like the fiction which Goethe himself wrote — only a shadow of his actual life. And, in fact, the film seems to use Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, which the real life Charlotte Buff inspired, as one of its primary inspirations. The resulting mutt of reality and fiction caters generally to its presumed audiences preferences; it trades in accuracy for popular appeal.
But what the film lacks in historical accuracy, it makes up for in the clichés of a forbidden romance. Between passionate coitus in the rain to a love-at-first-sight ballroom scene, this film meets up to all of its trailer’s promised sexual tension. Yet, much like its anachronistic humor, the film imitates our modern standards of romance, rather than its subject’s. One doubts that Goethe and Charlotte’s love ever felt the way the film (very fleetingly) makes us feel; and, as all of us know, no romance ever does. Perhaps the costumes, the setting, and our own romantic conceptions of 18th century amour make us believe that it can, but with the only mild delirium we feel after Young Goethe in Love, we question whether it should.
The film provides little insight into the man himself and we feel as if it could be about any anonymous poet in his youth. If the movie industry had the courage to make films about artists in their matured, entirely non-romantic and unsexy years, then these biographical films might actually serve the illuminating purpose that most art should. Of course, the likelihood of any such film being made in the coming years is slim, given the assumption that we statistically-bound consumers will not pay to see it and the even more insulting idea that all a film requires to be considered thoughtful is the name of a famous poet in its title. Save the pretense, and call it what it is: an aesthetically and sexually pleasing romantic comedy in 18th century clothing.