There’s a moment early on in Netflix’s Isi & Ossi, in which the titular Isi (Lisa Vicari) is told through texts by her wealthy parents that her funds are being cut off. What proceeds is the brattiest fit of road rage put to film? Isi gets out of her car and tears a windshield wiper from the car of the driver behind her. This is a bit surprising at this juncture in the story because to this point Isi has been presented as a humble dreamer – a young woman who resents the control her parents have over her.
She wants to attend Culinary school against her parents’ wishes and is even willing to work at a fast-food restaurant to earn something on her own. But when she rips the windshield wiper off a stranger’s car, she resorts to a well-known cliche.
Perhaps this is an attempt at complexity. Isi is essentially representing two archetypes at once – the spoiled rich girl, and the down to earth rich girl who rebels against conformity. Then there’s Ossi (Dennis Mojen), a young ‘bad boy’ from a poor neighborhood in the same city. When Isi first sees him in that aforementioned restaurant, she’s immediately drawn to his aggressive attitude. The attraction appears to be mutual, but superficial and lacking understanding.
The two are not only smitten with each other but realize they can use one another for personal gains. Isi wants to pretend to date Ossi, so her parents will remove the freeze on her account as a reward for ditching the impoverished brute. And Ossi agrees to do it – in exchange for the money needed to pursue his boxing career and to catapult his mother out of debt.
That’s the dilemma in Isi & Ossi, an English-dubbed version of the German romantic comedy. It follows a familiar formula – will rich girl end up with a working-class guy, and what will it mean for their respective families if they do? The tale is as old as the medium, but the film stumbles into fresh perspectives – not by anything new it brings to the table, but how audiences interpret economic inequality in the modern era.
This modern interpretation of a well-worn fable inverses some of the formulae we’ve come to know. Instead of a humble peon who’s anti-establishment, Ossi is a brand-obsessed jock who sports Adidas and has a skull cap glued to his head despite the weather looking absolutely fine. He wants to be cool, and he sees the rich as something he can aspire to be rather than a class to resent.
Ossi is perhaps more adherent to labels than Isi is, as evidenced when he expresses surprise that she listens to “underground music like Jedi Mind Tricks.” But isn’t music, as a commodity in social settings, just simply currency to achieve a status of cool? It’s not unusual for rich socialites to adopt the branding of underground music to appear cool, to appear on the cutting edge. This shouldn’t seem strange, even if Isi’s affinity is genuine. It seems like Osi is the one who believes in social barriers; that it is not normal for Isi to be into such, um, hardcore (read: this universe’s idea of hardcore) music.
Making these observations more humorous is the fact that Ossi’s grandfather is an amateur rapper, going to battle raps in hopes that he’ll still be able to make it. If Grandpa can drop a verse, I don’t see why it’s strange for Isi to listen to rap to feel dangerous in her gated community. But the cognitive dissonance in seeing a senior citizen in battle rap is consistent with the movie’s theme of individuality. Characters, mostly Isi, are repeatedly adjudicated for preferences that go against type. Isi and Ossi are the perfect juxtapositions of this theme because Ossi subtly, subconsciously, enables this social order of conformity. He’s a walking cliche of masculinity and brand devotion. She’s a consistent contradiction, at times understanding of the less fortunate and at times disgusted by them
Early on, the differences in how the two would-be lovers see each other appears to be clear. Isi sees a regular human being, while Ossi sees a princess. Is it possible in some cases the poor can be just as superficial and prone to labels/generalizations as to the rich? How many rich people share similar views to Isi? This is hard to answer. While there’s plenty of platforms for the underprivileged to voice their displeasure with the wealthy, wealthy people are rarely asked what they think of the poor. And the public likely wouldn’t find the answers to be truthful thoughts, even if the rich were asked.
But perhaps this is all looking too deeply into what plays out as a standard rom-com. You know all the beats, the phases, the peaks and valleys of this formula. At one point, Isi wants to practice kissing Ossi so it’ll be convincing in front of her family; prompting Ossi to boast that he’s such a good kisser, an ex-girlfriend stayed with him despite hating him. Predictably, the practice seems to be a little too real for one or both. There’s also a falling out, a compromise, etc. It goes without saying that the film will divide viewers based on whether you just like these types of movies.
In that vein, Isi & Ossi is worth the time if you’re a rom-com aficionado. The English dubbing is a bit distracting at first, as mouths fail to match what’s being said, but you get used to the rhythm over time. If there is a complaint to be had with the dub, it’s that the English voice actors may be too over the top. Their voices are often exaggerated in moments where the live actors appear to be going for a more subdued performance. If you can get past the mismatched dubbing, the cast is actually quite good even if they’ve never asked to do anything too demanding. Vicari and Mojen, in particular, have excellent chemistry, both sexual and otherwise, and make their relationship not entirely seem like acting.
It’s the believability of their connection that carries the movie. It’s a crucial component in order for us to buy that Isi would be willing to make the decisions she does in the film. At one point, someone close to her
illuminates the cause of Isi’s anxiety; she doesn’t want the same things that her family wants. We live in a binary world where what’s intended to make some happy is presumed to make everyone happy. “Knowing” what’s best for everyone is what leads to control and to unhappiness. It’s easier to let people lead their own life. If you follow that creed, maybe you won’t find your daughter dry-humping a stranger on your couch.