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Two Men and a Big Baby

Patrik, Age 1.5 (2008)

Per-Anders Jörgensen/Regent Releasing

Sometimes movies should show new things that hadn’t been seen or considered before. Sometimes they delve into human emotions in fresh ways. Sometimes it’s pretty people blowing things up, or just the oldest sins in the newest ways. "Patrik, Age 1.5" tells us an old story, but one that’s still the best: that even though life is messy and complicated and imperfect, it’s still possible to be happy. It’s been a long time since a movie has so perfectly achieved this uplifting affect. And if you’d told me a gay Swedish adoption comedy with a country-music soundtrack would have achieved this, I would have laughed in disbelief.

Of course, despite the unpredicted joy of hearing Tanya Tucker in a subtitled movie, not everything in "Patrik, Age 1.5" is original – even knowing it’s an adaptation of a play by Michael Druker. When Göran (Gustaf Skarsgård, second son of Stellan Skarsgård) and Sven (Torkel Petersson) arrive in their new neighborhood, they have stepped into a Swedish Wisteria Lane, complete with desperate housewives doing aerobics in the front yard, bratty kids and preening macho husbands. It’s as if they are the only gay couple in Sweden. Of course, without this defining set-up, the denouement would not be nearly as satisfying – but still. Despite his new marriage, Sven has a decent relationship with his ex-wife Eva (Annika Hallin), who still comes around for dinner with teenage daughter Isabell (Amanda Davin, in a small but utterly crucial role), a sulky goth-Lolita dressed in the black tutus, stripy tights, Doc Marten boots and black eyeliner so loved by unhappy teenage girls. I liked that Göran and Eva are friends, and that Eva is one of their most vocal supporters of their decision to adopt.

The decision is mainly Göran’s, of course. He is a GP with one of those faces and demeanors that just wants to love you. He’s one of those preternaturally good people who improve your life slightly just by being in it; he’s clearly had this effect on Sven, despite Sven’s best efforts to fight it. Their meeting with the social worker to discuss their progress in the system has one of the smartest uses of body language in recent memory: As the couple chat about what country might let it bring a suitable infant home, the social worker firmly but gently informs that a gay couple is prevented from consideration for international adoption. Sven’s face closes like a fist, and Göran leaps from his chair. He stays quivering on his feet, in silence, for the rest of the scene. Mr. Skarsgård’s restraint is more powerful than any overacting would have been.

Therefore, when they get the letter announcing they have been approved to foster a boy called Patrik, aged 1.5, they are ecstatic. This makes the arrival of the 15-year-old Patrik (Thomas Ljungman) a huge shock. Once again, a lack of realism in this distracted from the moment; does the Scandinavian laissez-faire outlook really extend to letting foster kids deliver themselves to their own placements? Of course, if Patrik had been accompanied by a social worker, we would have missed the scene in the police station, with the constable behind glass insisting Sven not shout at him from the safety zone – a yellow box painted on the floor in front, like at ATMs. With a glowering Patrik and embarrassed Göran behind him, Sven then contorts himself around the window so as to continue shouting with his feet strictly outside the yellow box.

Having heard this much, you can clearly tell where the rest of the film is going. But it’s done so well, with such realistic affection for them and their best interests at heart – well, the cliché hurts to type, but it really is heartwarming. It's too smart to be cloying so all roads don’t lead to a happy ending, but that’s not the point. The point is Patrik showing off his hidden gardening skills – argh, he's "blossoming" – and winning round the neighborhood tweenies with his superior skateboarding. It’s Isabell taking Patrik up to her room, in the only sequence where she says more than eight words, for them to lay on her bed and just talk, talk and talk. It’s hard-nosed Sven getting drunk on whiskey in the living room while blasting that non-ironic country, and the loving attention he gives his collection of designer ceramics to Göran’s annoyance. It’s the tone in which Göran reprimands the language Patrik uses to describe his mother, and how he manages to communicate with this raging teenager in exactly the right way. Dammit, it’s even the jogging sequence in the end credits.

There’s nothing really revolutionary about "Patrik, Age 1.5," but that doesn’t matter. Marek Wiese’s cinematography is serviceable, without any attention-grabbing angles. The lighting is murky in places, and the world of the film – with the exception of the police station – is workaday and unimaginative. But what director Ella Lemhagen has achieved with this movie seems to be one of the hardest things of all. When you’re shooting out of sequence over weeks or months, creating consistently the right tone for your film strikes me as one of the most difficult things achievable. In that light, "Patrik, Age 1.5" is a minor miracle.


Opens on Aug. 6, 2010 in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Ella Lemhagen, based on the play by Michael Druker; director of photography, Marek Septimus Wieser; edited by Thomas Lagerman; music by Fredrik Emilson; production designer, Lene Willumsen; costumes by Angelica Tibblin Chen; produced by Mathias Berggren and Tomas Michaelsson; released by Regent Releasing/Here Films. In Swedish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Gustaf Skarsgard (Goran Skoogh), Torkel Petersson (Sven Skoogh), Thomas Ljungman (Patrik), Annika Hallin (Eva), Amanda Davin (Isabell) and Jacob Ericksson (Lennart Ljung).


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