As in real life, watching couples bicker in movies can be an uncomfortable, enervating experience. Filmmakers too often mistake “raw” fighting for honesty, with paramours so horrible to each other they become as unrealistic as any blockbuster invention. So it’s a huge relief to see Everyone Else, an exacting and sometimes hilarious German drama that captures a pair well on their way to a break-up but does so without resorting to cartoon cruelty. The two play petty mind games, utter terrible insults and have bad sex. But they’re also, at times, tender and affectionate, and more often than not mix emotional violence with genuine love. It is, in other words, realistic.
Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eidinger) are vacationing in sun-drenched Sardinia. They’re less in love than comfortable, their romance consisting mostly of in-jokes, idle chatter and the pathological avoidance of other people. They pride themselves on not being a typical couple—like everyone else, you could say—which is what annoys them about another vacationing pair, the kind who aggressively touch during dinner and sway merrily to the German equivalent of Barry Manilow.
This couple is corny, which is why they work; Gitti and Chris are not, which is why they don’t. Writer-director Maren Ade—whose The Forest For the Trees (on Netflix Instant; hop to it) is an even darker portrayal of intense neediness—argues that love requires a certain fuzzy-headedness. Relationships, the film bleakly says, do require swapping “I love you”s even when they’re insincere, do require PDA, do require the enjoyment of crap love songs. Our two protagonists are fundamentally incapable of such icky acts, presuming themselves to be above them. When Chris puts his arm around his lady as they walk, she balks, joking with complicity that he’s “such a bad actor.” If romance is mere acting, how does one express love?
Everyone Else is technically a relationship movie, but it’s also a dissection of a specific generational malady. Thirtysomethings of apparent middle-class upbringing, Gitti and Chris are self-aware to a fault, so annoyed by tradition and into the idea of being a new kind of couple that they don’t realize they still have to deal with the same stuff most couples face. They, too, suppress genuine problems; they, too, act like overgrown children. And, just like everyone else, they may never do the right thing and break up.