Full of flash and glamour, Tom Herzner (Kostja Ullmann) is a men’s style icon. He is also very gay. In fact, he is so gay that his salon refuses to style women. Apparently in the world of Coming In, gay men are not gay because they are attracted to men. They’re gay because they are repulsed by women. This disgust also appears to be shared by the many straight men, who are constantly telling Tom how lucky he is that he lives with a man and doesn’t have to deal with woman and all their moods. While this basic world view is difficult to swallow, it could have provided the basis of an interesting social commentary if handled properly. Unfortunately, this turns out to be nowhere near the case.
When Tom releases his new shampoo line for men, his financier is adamant that he also release a line for women as well. Since Tom knows literally nothing about women, he sets off to work undercover at Bel Hair, a salon run by Heidi (Aylin Tezel, who looks exactly like Sarah Silverman) to find out how to make products for women. From here, the film moves firmly into romantic comedy territory.
For a film that sets its protagonist with the goal of understanding women, Coming In appears to know nothing about women that hasn’t been learned from a bad ’90s rom-com. The incredibly off-putting introduction of Tom basically sinks the film. I think director Marco Kreuzpaintner was trying to bring a breath of fresh air to the genre with an “unconventional” relationship of an adamantly gay man and the woman who manages to erase his dislike of an entire gender, but it falls into all the old traps. For example, the filmmakers are not content to simply let Heidi, the manic pixie dream girl of the piece, rehabilitate their female-hating lead. No, in return, she too must be tamed.
The manic pixie dream girl trope has taken its fair share of criticism, and not without reason. However, it is a trope that at the very least usually provides us with a woman who has a personality and something bordering on original thought. Coming In decides that for Heidi to truly save Tom, she must first be remade in his image. This is a recurring theme throughout the film. Women, at best, exist to make men happy and allow them to grow. At worst, they exist only to drag men down and make their lives miserable.
The only place the film really gets anything right is in its approach to human sexuality, treating it as fluid and not condemning bisexuals. There is also the fact that the two leads are incredibly attractive, both physically and in their on screen presence. These things slightly soften the underlying misogyny of the film, but it is not nearly enough to wash the sour taste left by a film that makes objectification the best a woman can hope for. At least, as objects, we’re allowed to exist.
Amanda is covering the 2015 Inside Out Festival live from Toronto. For more coverage of the festival, click here.