I Feel Like Disco
There's a lot of tired genres out there, but perhaps none have been exhausted as definitively as the bildungsroman. It's not just the classics -- your "Catcher in the Rye"s and "Rushmore"s -- but the unending run of rote takes on the genre, rushed out to please heartsick teens every summer. You see enough movies like "The Art of Getting By," "It's Kind of a Funny Story," and "The Way Way Back," and eventually they all start to bleed together. Not "I Feel Like Disco," though. This German entry into the genre is idiosyncratic, funny, and despite its obvious no-budget origins, has a "look." Here's a coming-of-age tale that could never be mistaken for anything other than itself.
The film follows disco-obsessed Florian, a fat gay boy traveling through a German society that mostly rejects him. Of course, some of those rejections may be coming from his own head: His mother is in a coma, and we see daydreams of her awakening (she won't) to dance and play with him in her hospital room. Indeed, scenes of Florian being spurned and made fun of by classmates are played in the same almost-surreal, "is-this-really-happening?" tone as those dancing-with-my-almost-dead-mom sequences. It's fitting that the film shifts between different representations of reality and color schemes, and humor stylings, and many other things: The film's about a kid learning to be himself (with some help from contemporary satiric disco star Christian Steiffen), and so the film shifts in its identity as often as Florian does.
We can spend our time celebrating the way director Axel Ranisch is giving normally-marginalized voices center stage here, but that would cause us to miss the playful, tonally-ambitious direction he offers. The way he loops real-life figure Steiffen into the plot isn't just narratively ambitious, it's handled with a sure authorial hand: Ranisch's goofy anything-can-happen aesthetic renders the meeting between Steiffen and Florian's Dad as something in between dream and reality, making the coincidental pill much easier to swallow. In fact, the whole film has that feeling, as if its gliding from scene-to-scene on the strength of an artist's subconscious, rather than following a rigid narrative plotline. The film itself is like a dance -- it moves based on rhythm, not rules. "I Feel like Disco" actually does.