Then a young woman shows up at one of his gigs and says she’s his daughter Tessa (Tessa Göttlicher), and she wants him to pay all the back child support he owes her mother. The arguments between Richie and Tessa are some of the best arguments between an adult child and a disappointing parent ever captured onscreen. Seidl honors his actors’ teamwork by holding on them in medium shots and trying not to cut until they’re done. They overlap, they tear into each other, sometimes they yell, and there are moments where it seems like maybe one of the actors took the scene in an unanticipated direction, and the other decided to roll with it—and this, too, feels real.
One of the many things that makes Richie fascinating is that if you described him as a gigolo who performs music on the side rather than a working musician, he might not disagree with you. Seidl and his cowriter Veronika Franz don’t have any illusions about any of their characters. Tessa seems a bit less righteous and more scammy as the story goes on; she has a boyfriend and he has an entourage. Richie’s clients and party friends have lives, and Richie’s barely controlled chaos is their brief escape from responsibility. There’s no special pleading on behalf of anyone in the story or any romanticizing (although there’s something about Thomas that makes you like Richie no matter how degraded his behavior).
There are probably too many scenes detailing Richie’s carousing with various women—the issue is not any specific behavior depicted but a certain repetitiousness that sets in, the “OK, we got it already” factor. But even when the movie seems to be spinning its wheels a bit, there’s always a pivot or surprising disclosure that makes the scene worth it, as when Richie is too drunk to perform, and his partner has to keep pausing to go into an adjoining room and tend to her elderly, bedridden mother. The best parts are reminiscent of John Cassavetes films where you almost can’t believe how unflatteringly the characters are being depicted and how far down the actors were willing to go to capture that level of delusion and misery. It’s elating in a horrible way. Liberating, almost.