Based on Andreas Steinhöfel’s bestselling novel, Centre Of My World follows gay teenager Phil (Louis Hoffman), who returns from a summer camp to find that his unorthodox single mother, Glass (Sabine Timoteo) and twin sister Dianne (Ada Philine Stappenbeck), aren’t speaking to one another, but no one will tell him why.
When he returns to school, he meets new boy Nicholas (Jannik Schümann), who he immediately starts to fall for. Initially Phil just watches his new crush from afar, but then Nicholas decides to make a move, and the two begin both dating and having passionate sex. Phil’s best friend Kat (Svenja Jung) initially isn’t sure about this newcomer, but soon the three of them are fast friends.
However, with Phil falling in love with Nicholas, he may be ignoring that his boyfriend could be looking at things slightly differently. He also has to deal with the fact things seem to be getting worse at home, to the point that the once tight-knit band of him, his sister and his mother may fall apart in an irretrievable way. As we see in flashback, Phil did not have a typical upbringing, and ghosts of the past may be re-emerging.
Films about gay teenagers are not exactly rare, but this one eschews the machinations of coming out, and instead focuses on first love, as well as the family issues of a child now having to act like a grown up, and a mother having to realise her freewheeling actions have repercussions. The two sides of the movie – the youthful romance and the troubled family – sometimes rub up against each other awkwardly. There’s a slight sense that there’s not quite enough time to properly deal with both of them, so things occasionally end up feeling rushed. The romance is handled better than the family side, largely because the subplots involving the mother and sister are more complex than the film has time to deal with. They’re also a lot darker than what’s going on the romantic side, occasionally descending towards the gothic.
That’s not to say that side of the movie is bad, as it certainly keeps you intrigued about why the mother and daughter aren’t talking, where Dianne is sneaking off to at night, and whether the mum will once more follow her typical pattern with her new boyfriend – going all in before driving them away.
It’s the romance that will keep viewers most entertained and interested though, with Phil and Nicholas falling in deep in lust. Director Jakob M. Erwa wants us to see everything through Phil’s eyes. Sometimes he takes things a little far – such as swelling music and a literally rose-tinted view the first time Phil sees Nicholas – but it largely works well, partly because it does these things with a wink and because it does a pretty good job of conveying the heightened sentiment of teen life – a time when love seems all-encompassing, and emotional pain feels like its brought your life to an end.
It is a charming romance, played well by Louis Hoffman as the sweet, somewhat naïve Phil, and Jannik Schümann as Nicholas. In some respects it’s the latter who has the more difficult job, as Nicholas must be slightly mysterious and sexually forward, yet still with a real vulnerability and the sense that he’s a genuine teenage boy, rather than just being a handsome cardboard figure for Phil to love. Both actors do a great job with it, something made slightly more difficult for them by the fact that despite this being about a teen romance, this isn’t a film that’s shy about sex, with full frontal nudity, some hot sex scenes, and even a shot of a hand job (which admittedly was probably done by body doubles).
One of the other critics at the screening I attended said they didn’t like the film as they felt it was too much of a fantasy of first love and family troubles. I don’t really agree, or at least it’s not a fantasy any more than most films are, even if it is about a very particular middle-class world. In fact, a lot of what it’s talking about are things that many people will empathise with, whether it’s falling too fast too deep as a teenager, trying to hold a family together that’s changing in ways you don’t understand, or indeed the youthful need to find yourself and work out what the centre of your own world is. It certainly left most people at the screening with a smile on their face.
Overall Verdict: Despite the teen romance and family drama rubbing awkwardly beside one another, and a tendency to rush things that really ought not be rushed, Centre Of My World is a sweet and charming gay teen romance, that also keeps you intrigued about the dark family secrets in Phil’s life.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac