Stellan Skarsgard plays Max, embarking on a book tour which leads him to New York City, promoting his latest piece of literature. It’s the city where an old flame resides, and he decides – despite being in a relationship with Clara (Susanne Wolff) – to get back in touch, arriving, uninvited to the workplace of Rebecca (Nina Hoss). Initially she has no intention of seeing him, but as he pleads for her attention, she reluctantly agrees to spend some time, as the pair set off to Montauk. As he hopes to reignite feelings he has neever been able to shake, they both need to establish whether their fling decades earlier was a meaningless endeavour, or whether there is still hope that there could be something between them in the future.
Partly where this film suffers is that we simply do not believe in the romantic narrative between Skarsgard and Hoss, nor able to comprehend how he has managed to lure Clara to be his girlfriend (the actress is over 20 years younger that her counterpart). This is squarely a fault of the screenplay – just take Woody Allen, who so often portrayed the troubled creative, punching above his weight – but we always believed in, and rooted for him getting the girl, as it were, because he was so witty, articulate and engaging, and Max is none of those things. There is also little palpable chemistry between Skarsgard and either of his love interests – making it a challenge to invest in either storyline – which is completely the opposite to Brooklyn, where we couldn’t decide which we wanted more.
Tonally inconsistent, there are shades of the archetypal romantic comedy to this piece, while at other times it takes on the form of a profound, affecting drama, and a compatible balance is rarely achieved by Schlondorff. Perhaps this is emblematic of the film being based in the States, and the traditional setting of NY, and yet having European protagonists at the heart of the narrative – not quite able to marry up the two contrasting sensibilities to make for a compelling piece of cinema.