With the Americanized version of "Insomnia" out in theaters, it's easy to imagine a lousy U.S. remake of "Elling," a touching Norwegian comedy. Like "Three Men and a Baby" and "The Visitors," it will only be half as funny as the original, but at least there won't be any pesky subtitles to read. If they get Woody Harrelson and Ian McKellen, it might turn out ok; if they cast Jack Black and Robin Williams, or anybody tempted to try their hand at turning disadvantaged roles into Oscar performances, I'll stay at home and rent the original, which is softspoken and endearingly off, just like the film's heroes.
Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen) spent forty years living in his mother's closet. After her death, he is sent to a psychiatric hospital, where he makes friends with his roommate, the burly Kjell Bjarne (Sven Nordin). Since both are making progress, they are released into the wild: the government rents an apartment in the heart of Oslo for them, where they are to prove their independence under the tutellage of their social worker.
The coming of age of two middle-aged men is an odd sight. They struggle with shopping, eating out, and answering the telephone. While Elling is a twitching sack of anxieties that make Woody Allen look like a conquering he-man, his buddy Kjell Bjarne has the libido of a 15-year-old and an irrepresible urge to bash his head against the wall. With wide-open innocence and utter lack of sophistication, they struggle to win friends, make dinner without help from the Norwegian government, and stay out of institutions.
I found "Elling" a pleasant surprise because director Petter
Næss and writer Ingvar Ambjørnsen refrained from exploring
all heart-wrenching dramatic possibilites. We are spared horrible scenes
of despair and relapse. Other films would take this material and turn
it into tear-jerking awfulness ("Awakenings" and "I am
Sam" come to mind.) "Elling" isn't afraid to show the grim
realities -- Elling and Kjell Bjarne are painfully helpless, and their
panic attacks don't gloss over the bodily fluids, but all in all, this
film is optimistic and fun, qualities that aren't readily associated with
this kind of material.
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