Referential and reverential, Reprise walks a fine line between originality and cliché. That's a dangerous game to be playing and, if nothing else, Norwegian director/co-screenwriter Joachim Trier deserves credit for gleefully anteing up. His is a snappy yet moody take on the artistic and literal coming of age of childhood friends Erik (Espen Klouman-Hoiner) and Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie). They're both aspiring young authors whose originality remains a work in progress, and they look all too often to their inspirations instead of themselves.
So, too, does the film's director, who seems hell-bent on letting us know that he's an Artist who is influenced by other Artists. By the film's end, you want to take a copy of David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film and club him over the head with it.
His dynamic young literary duo, complete with hints of homoerotic tension, feels lifted straight out of Francois Truffaut's Jules et Jim minus the ménage à trois, but with almost as much of the misogyny.
They return the favor by leaving copies of Albert Camus' La Peste within view of the camera, much in the same way Truffaut's trio wrestles over a copy of Goethe's Elective Affinities.
Their bourgeois circle of male friends would feel right at home with Whit Stillman's preppies. Then there are the blasts of Joy Division, and Ian Curtis' suicide hanging over the fragile Phillip like so many black shirts that serve as the film's wardrobe.
But there's another reference that seems to creep into Reprise, and that's German director Tom Tykwer's urgent use of alternate narratives in Run Lola Run. Trier employs the technique similarly, if not as consistently, as he imagines different choices and outcomes for the two young/old friends. Rarely has youth seemed filled with so much earnest potential, or potential wasted, all at once.
At the film's beginning, the intuitive Phillip and self-doubting Erik are shown poised with manuscripts at a mailbox, about to send away for their futures. Trier immediately works in what could happen to them before returning quickly to reality. Phillip's manuscript is accepted and he becomes a rookie sensation, while Erik's is rejected and he retreats and regroups. Success drives Phillip into an obsessive funk that may or may not have been aided by his romantic ideal, Kari (Viktoria Winge, who would have been welcome in any French new wave film). Erik and his gang of fellow upper-middle-class buddies come to pick up Phillip at the mental institution, and he spends the rest of the movie trying to get his act together.
Erik spends the rest of the movie doing essentially the same thing, though from a much stronger position; while Phillip seems cursed with writer's block, Erik's on the verge of greatness with his own latest attempt.
Much of Reprise is spent with the duo and their friends, hanging out, dissing and wooing women, and generally displaying the familiar smug immaturity of privileged twentysomethings.
It helps that Trier, though in touch with their often self-inflicted wounds, also knows what makes them vulnerable. And it doesn't hurt that both actors are unnervingly attractive, Lie with his lost-soul eyes and Klouman-Hoiner with his Nordic blonde perfection. They're almost too cute to ignore, and Trier knows it.
Reprise, like its characters, stumbles and fumbles its way toward some kind of resolution, the final minutes a mini-marathon and the conclusion a bit too neat – like all the guys of Diner getting their shit together just in time for the credits.
Sorry for the reference. As Trier would concede, it's too tempting. But it's also fun to play along. At one point in the film, a scathing review's headline screams back at one of the young authors: "All form, no substance." Reprise flirts with ironic disaster here, but because Trier cares so much about his characters, he avoids that pitfall and makes us wonder about the director's next book – er, I mean, film.