Take a Drink: whenever Ingmar says something morbid
Take a Drink: for child sexuality. Those Swedes sure are liberated.
Take a Drink: for boobs
Take a Drink: whenever Uncle Gunnar does something weird
Take a Drink: for the beach
Take a Drink: whenever Mom freaks out at her little monsters
Take a Drink: for spilled milk
Take Two: if it’s cried over
Do a Shot: “Bana-na-na”
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Has any director you can think of bottomed out as spectacularly as Lasse Hallstrom?
Okay, yeah. How about quality-wise?
The man has not one, but two Best Director nominations, and now he’s the go-to director for Nicholas Sparks movies? I mean, damn, how does somebody go from Cider House Rules to Safe HavenI? Let’s see if we can see any signs of this in his breakout, and first nominee, My Life As a Dog.
The story focuses on young, quite morbid Ingmar, whose brother is a preteen sociopath and whose mother is struggling with a serious illness. When he’s sent to live with his eccentric Uncle Gunnar’s family he meets a tough little tomboy who takes a shine to him.
My Life is a Dog is a pretty boilerplate indie/foreign flick coming of age story, replete with precocious kids, kooky adults, burgeoning sexuality, and introduction to mortality. However, it’s one of the best of the bunch. This is due to the warmly humanistic and insightful script, a uniformly strong cast, and yes, Hallstrom’s direction, which is particularly strong with his young actors.
It’s also quite funny. Anton Glanzelius as 12 year old Ingmar does well with drama, but where he really shines is the comedy some of which is quite dark and morbid. His reaction face is priceless.
There’s also more quirkiness than you can shake a stick at, but (for the most part) a realistic strangeness, like weird cousins and neighbors you remember from childhood. In the end, we have not only a distinct feeling of all the growing up poor Ingmar has had to do this year, but a nostalgia for his friendly, comfortable (and prettily shot) surrogate home.
About that burgeoning sexuality.. it’s a bit much. This is Exhibit A for that “liberated European mindset” you hear about, which is fine and all, but I only need to hear about a preteen’s budding breasts maybe once, and see them approximately zero times. Also, blonde bombshell Berit is basically a pedophile, right? If she was a portly 48 year old man, her titillation at youngsters spying on her naked body wouldn’t be quite so cute.
Mmm, feast your eyes, kiddies!
So, how about our thesis? While this is true and way better than Dear John, even here we can see Hallstrom has a fatal weakness for some melodrama. The soundtrack is a particular offender, getting its plinky piano “this is so emotional” stink all over the plot.
My Life as a Dog is an amusing, often heartwarming coming of age tale which also happened to be Kurt Vonnegut’s favorite film. I don’t know how many movies he watched, but that’s still an endorsement to be proud of.
So it goes…