Here’s the setup: Fred, a construction foreman, is driving through the streets of Berlin, late for a basketball game where he intends to propose to his girlfriend, Mara. Arriving at the arena, he blithely parks in the wheelchair space. Mara is delighted at Fred’s proposal, but before accepting, she needs to be sure that Fred will get along with her bratty son, Linus. (In addition to being a spoilt brat, Linus has a serious obesity problem which of course is played for laughs.) Linus demands that Fred bring him a signed basketball that was part of the star player’s record-setting season. The only problem is, after each basket, the ball is tossed into the special section for disabled patrons. So Fred pretends to be paralysed and mute to secure his place in the wheelchair section of the arena, and successfully catches the ball used in the record-setting basket. But then the ball needs to be “verified” which will take a week, so in the meantime Fred must keep up the charade of being disabled. Also he is to be the subject of a promotional film for the team, focusing on its disabled fans. Over the week, Fred falls in love with Denise, the beautiful young filmmaker who is so naïve that despite all the evidence she doesn’t catch on that Fred is faking his disability. But will she continue to love Fred if he confesses the truth?
A few minutes in, I realized that this was the exact plot of the recent Adam Sandler movie, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, with ‘disabled’ substituted for ‘gay’. By the end, it occurred to me that the concept goes back much further; the basic plot points were covered in Sydney Pollack’s brilliant 1982 film, Tootsie. I wonder if this constitutes a subgenre? For example, does Soul Man follow this formula? (I never saw it.)
As for Wo Ist Fred? (which played in Vancouver this week at the European Union Film Festival), I have to admit that parts of it were quite funny but overall it went on too long; there was a long sequence where Fred pretends to be his own identical twin that could have been excised. (There must be other comedies where a character invents an identical twin but none come to mind. However, the more general concept of inventing a sibling was used for this purpose in Tootsie, as well as the Tom Hanks sitcom Bosom Buddies.)