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With: Per Christian Ellefsen, Sven Nordin, Per Christensen, Jorgen Langhelle, Marit Pia Jacobsen
Written by: Axel Hellstenius, based on the book by Ingvar Ambjornsen
Directed by: Petter Naess
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Language: Norwegian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 90
Date: 03/16/2001

Elling (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Best Damn Movie I Ever Saw

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Elling is not actually the best damn movie I ever saw (that distinction belongs to Buster Keaton's 1924 film Sherlock Jr.). But that's certainly the pronouncement it would get from one of the movie's two odd-couple heroes, who offers similar praise for the "best damn meal I ever ate," the "best damn present I ever got," and so on. And in the heat of the moment, you might be inclined to agree with him. (Kevin Spacey did, and has purchased the rights to Elling for an American remake.)

Imagine Rowan Atkinson and Gerard Depardieu cast as roommates who have been recently released from a mental institution and you'll have a pretty good picture of Elling, the Norwegian film that received a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination last spring. (It lost to No Man's Land.) The Atkinson-like Per Christian Ellefsen plays the title character as a nervous, anxiety-ridden little twerp with his shirt buttoned up to the collar. The Depardieu-like Sven Nordin plays his much bigger, clumsier, ox of a roommate named Kjell Bjarne. After hitting it off in the institution, they're deemed healthy enough to live on their own in an apartment in Oslo. A social worker named Frank (Jorgen Langhelle) is assigned to look after them and make sure they buy food, answer the phone and become acclimated to society. At first, Elling wants nothing more than to stay inside; "What good is having an apartment if we have to leave it all the time?" he asks.

The catalyst comes on Christmas Eve when the boys' drunken and pregnant neighbor Reidun (Marit Pia Jacobsen) collapses in the stairwell outside their door. Kjell Bjarne carries her up to her apartment and becomes smitten with her, while Elling grows jealous at the idea of losing his roommate. Almost at the same time, Elling discovers that he has a poet's soul, as a fine little poem about the enigmatic girl suddenly pops into his head. He begins stewing a plan to become the "Sauerkraut Poet," whose identity will be a mystery to all. In a fit of bravery, Elling attends a poetry reading and befriends an old poet named Alfons (Per Christensen). Soon the four become close friends and venture out to Alfons' cabin for a weekend getaway. The biggest conflict comes when both Elling and Reidun each wish to have Kjell Bjarne sleep in their room. And don't forget that any movie involving a pregnant woman ends with the triumphant birth of the baby.

At first Elling rubbed me the wrong way. Ellefsen's performance seemed a little too one-note and studied to sustain a whole movie. But the movie surprised me with Elling's voice-overs, which are designed to be far more insightful and brilliant than anything he might say in person. These lucid moments capture the poet's inner spirit and bring him closer to humanity. No such problem exists with Kjell Bjarne, a lovable oaf from frame one who enjoys nothing more than indulging in food and thinking about women. Even the social worker Frank avoids cliché by appearing as a smoking, leather jacket-wearing hipster -- albeit one who truly cares. The movie ultimately relies a bit too heavily on grandstanding, emotional, Rocky-like moments in which characters fall to their knees and scream "yes!!!" to the heavens, but it's such a warm and charming package that you'll feel too happy to argue much.

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