Tomek is the man who has it all in Slovenian born director Mitja Okorn’s 2016 rom-com Planeta Singli. Set in Poland, it features a celebrated chat show host with a cult following, Tomek (Maciej Stuhr), who not only has a successful career but also women falling at his feet. Yet clearly there’s also something lacking in the starry, superficial existence he leads. Widely regarded in Europe as a commercial and critical success and featured in film festivals in Berlin and London, Okorn’s take on the world of internet dating doesn’t merely tell the story of boy meets girl, but is also a clever and amusing critique of the impact of social media in romantic and family relationships.
It’s Valentine’s Day when Tomek meets Ania (Agnieszka Wiedlocha,) a lonely music teacher who’s had a series of unsuccessful blind dates and been stood up by yet another prospective boyfriend. He offers to chronicle her comic romantic mishaps on his live show – think Jerry Springer meets the Muppets – but the plot is far more than just a will they/won’t they tale.
Along with the story of Ania’s search for love, there’s also a complicated subplot depicting the misuse of dating apps and the misunderstandings they cause, as well as a cautionary tale about the malicious use of media which will horrify anyone with teenage offspring. Tomek soon discovers that Ania, far from being the archetypal timid schoolteacher spinster, might well have a series of eligible suitors vying for her hand. But would he ever be interested in her? Or she in him?
Set against a series of breathtaking backdrops of Warsaw throughout the seasons, the plot twists and turns with a lightness of touch and some clever and quirky comedy moments which ensure that schmaltz and soppiness are kept to a minimum. Only in the final scenes of the film does it finally become clear who’s destined to be Ania’s Mr Right, bringing a happy ending to a film which entertains with a moral and a message.
Far from being dowdy and downtrodden, Ania is a dignified and quietly feisty heroine, who refuses to “glam-up” to get her man, unlike her friend, tempestuous hairdresser Ola (Weronika Ksiazkiewicz) whose story is featured in the comic subplot – almost Shakespearean in format – which apes and mirrors Ania’s quest for a knight in shining armour. Yet Ania’s very much a modern feminist figure, a role model for her small students and not simply waiting to be rescued from what Tomek perceives as a dull life. Stuhr’s Tomek is at first crass and bursting with machismo – almost a caricature – yet later scenes display this actor’s versatility and vulnerability. Minor characters too challenge stereotypes – nobody’s entirely the way they initially seem to be, and as with Tomek’s assumptions about Ania, the viewer realises that their own impressions of people are misguided, a veritable comedy of errors.
Yet as the film progresses, the mood becomes darker and important themes are highlighted. Okorn raises questions on the intrusion of new technologies into our society, questioning whether the internet and social media really do enrich our lives or whether we’re now just living through them. There are wonderful glimpses of modern family life when all are present in a room, but elsewhere on screen there’s an feminist mother/daughter theme running through the action, encouraging us to question not just the number of relationships we might have with others, but the quality of them too. Particularly effective is the director’s choice of popular songs throughout the film, reflecting the mood of the protagonists – Ania’s a musician and the soundtrack features original music attributed to her as well as well known melodies.
That said, the “showstopper “towards the end of the film was far too long and sentimental for this viewer, confirming the old adage that it’s probably a mistake to work with children and animals. Whilst not explicit, this film’s nevertheless a rom-com for adults and the song and dance act jars and spoils the film’s momentum, even if it has you smiling at some cute kids with some sassy moves.
Would I recommend Planet Single? Yes, unreservedly. It’s entertaining and light, true, but also intelligent and uplifting. It’s the kind of film I would watch with my teenage children in the hope they’d find some encouragement to use social media with confidence but caution. And it’s the kind of film which makes you smile….. and want to visit Warsaw.
Planet Single (Planeta Singli) was screened as part of KINOTEKA, the 15th Polish Film Festival in London, running from 17 March till 5 April 2017.