Brothers Christian (Lars Eidinger) and Georg (Bjarne Mädel) were inseparable during their youth in a sleepy town in Germany’s Black Forest region, yet slowly drifted apart as their dreams and career prospects formed: Christian has travelled the world and is now a successful executive, Georg stayed at home to look after their aging parents. Having been reunited after 30 years by a death in the family, the duo spontaneously agree to take a road trip they first planned as teenagers using the same crappy mopeds they bought all those years ago.
One of 25 KM/H’s greatest successes is how it uses a modest premise to play on the obvious archetypes each character could fall into - for instance - Georg being ‘the responsible and uptight one’, or Christian being effortlessly suave. By contrast, the film quickly settles on the much more realistic notion that siblings, especially those brought up side by side, probably aren’t that different. Both men can be raucous or considerate even when the other isn’t around; their estrangement certainly led to them having different priorities, but I could imagine each behaving the same way if their roles had been reversed. In fact, the film emphasises this through a plethora of moments where the brothers work as a team, from some shockingly good tap dancing, to literally eating everything on the menu at a Greek restaurant as per their younger selves’ rules for the trip (likely to be the most absurdly funny film scene I watch this year).
25 KM/H would be nowhere near is entertaining as it without such brilliant performances from Eidinger and Mädel, who not only show an inherent grasp of their respective characters, but chemistry which should be the envy of on-screen duos everywhere. This is epitomised early in the film as the brothers grieve in their childhood home after the opening funeral sequence: Mädel nails Georg’s bottled-up anger and disappointment at Christian for being late to the service, yet the latter’s sheer delight and nostalgia upon being surrounded by old memories breaks down the walls between them, naturally leading to a hilarious montage of drunken table tennis.
My only slight criticism of the film overall is its occasional over reliance on montages, though this is surely the result of Goller having an abundance of footage to choose from, an understandable dilemma when your leads make such a great team. However, this does thankfully allow 25 KM/H to spend its second half developing an emotional side, through Georg and Christian’s resurfacing bond as well as some surprising revelations about their respective pasts. Once again, the script succeeds by presenting a relatable point of view, this time that reinserting yourself into someone’s life sounds nice but is much harder to achieve in practice. While the poignancy of this idea never eclipses the film’s comedic moments (nor should it), its steady build-up and cheerful conclusion make it an easy fit and welcome addition to the long list of things simply done right here.
25 KM/H is the rare film that gets to have its cake and eat it too, succeeding both in its broader comedy and touching reflections on family. The road trip concept also provides a stunning showcase for the German countryside, in fact, aside from Eidinger and Mädel the MVP is probably cinematographer Frank Griebe. Overall, this seemed like a reliable crowd-pleaser going in yet still managed to impress and surprise me with just how good it is.