Title: Patrik 1.5
Director: Ella Lemhagen
Starring: Gustaf Skarsgård (yes: one of the brothers!), Torkel Petersson and Tom Ljungman
Distributers: Here Films / Regent Releasing
Buy link: Amazon.com
Country of Origin/Language: Sweden/Swedish
Length: 103 minutes
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Damon
REVIEW SUMMARY: A gorgeous, heartwarming film about the unlikely ways families raise each other.
BLURB: Newly approved for adoption, Goran (Gustaf Skarsgård) and Sven (Torkel Petersson) excitedly prepare for their baby’s arrival. But after a mix-up, they instead find themselves the parents of Patrik (Tom Ljungman), a 15-year-old homophobe… who may have a criminal past.
REVIEW: CONTAINS (VERY) MILD SPOILERS
A couple things right off the bat: this movie isn’t a gay romance. It focuses on a very sexy male couple who love each other, but their romance is secondary. On the other hand, Patrik 1.5 is completely concerned with the ways men love each other: as partners, as mates, as fathers, as sons, as friends. The rich performances, the snappy script, and the quiet woven beauty of its narrative will capture anyone willing to take a gander. This film deserves to be seen by a wide audience.
Goran and Sven are a male couple living in squeaky clean Swedish suburbia in relative bliss. They have been trying to adopt an infant to complete their family with no success… their prayers seem to be answered, when a misplaced comma within Swedish bureaucracy lands them with a 15 year old homophobic hoodlum.
Perfect dramatic setup: contrived, but pregnant with comedy and friction. Still, what could have played as mawkish sitcom or flaccid cartoon takes shape as a sensitive visit with a family finding itself in ways they didn’t expect. Adapted from a stage play, this film shows its theatrical DNA in the best possible way: the pacing and dialogue are adult and sophisticated. I assume Michael Druker’s original script proved firm bedrock for what we see on the screen.
Ella Lemhagen’s film offers an incredibly subtle, sophisticated look at fatherhood and the ways gay men can and cannot fit into the midcentury fantasy of bourgeois suburbia. And you can tell from the first frame that it was made in a country that has been facing and embracing the issues of gay marriage and gay parenting for some time now. There’s a palpable balance and restraint in the telling, that never gets scoldy or didactic, which (given the subject and the setup) is pretty amazing. It is a sweet movie, a sad movie, and ultimately a joyous movie about how men stumble towards hope and affection at every age.
Skarsgård plays Goran with a bumbling warmth that seems to abrade everyone around him. He has grown so frantic to embrace the idea of fatherhood that he loses track of the man with whom he’s building his family. More than once I found myself wondering HOW these two men had ended up together, but in fact the contradictions in his relationship with Sven rang true and rich. Relationships aren’t neat, and they’re rarely this sexy.
Likewise, Petersson’s rendering of bisexual Sven’s problematic party boy past and doubts about parenthood rang equally complicated and authentic. People have doubts, and parenting can break even the strongest will. Sven’s anger, fear, and anxiety about growing old/trapped/neutered made him a charged presence in much of the debate that ensued. His bisexuality picks at the dangling threads in his happy homo-homelife, offering a nontraditional “escape” all the more appealing for its unexpectedness. The realistic conflict between these two men, and the cost of their struggles earned my trust as they dug themselves deeper into crisis. They felt like a married couple, rather than a neutered, sterilized, PC rendering of same. Awesome!
Ironically, although the main homosexual relationship becomes a source of prejudice and tension, Goran and Sven’s sexuality (rightly) has nothing to do with their desire for a child or their efforts at stability. It is only a problem because people around them keep trying to make it one. The “gayness” generates drama because of other people’s preconceptions and prejudices. This deft script choice guarantees that man-being-married becomes as inconsequential and as dramatically challenging to the viewer as it should be.
The antagonist in this film is prejudice of every kind; homophobia plays a huge part in nearly wrecking each of the characters, but other insidious bigotries slither in the undergrowth of suburban bliss… as it always does: about class, education, duty, parenting, religion, sexuality, gender, fidelity, marriage, etc. And it is on this point Patrik 1.5 becomes more than just a sweet Lifetime movie about bourgie queers adopting a hateful nogoodnik. The most potent drama and comedy in this film arises from Sven and Goran’s prejudices about the wary homophobe they’ve got under their roof… and their preconceptions about their life together. Again, a clever twist.
Scenes of astonishing power and humor build on this base: Goran’s amazing conversations with Sven’s ex-wife, Patrik finding a place for himself in this alien world, even Goran and Sven releasing their illusions for sweet reality. The tenderness and humanity are mesmerizing. A special mention should go to the way the three-dimensional female characters occupy this movie’s world. That’s (sadly) a rarity in a lot of “gay” cinema. Repeatedly rich, complicated NON-stereotyped characters feel so fresh and present that I caught myself thinking of them as real people I had met at some point.
Lemhagen and her cast manage to wring farce and pathos out of the posturing and panic that these three men do locked in proximity. As Patrik, Tom Ljungman shines in these skirmishes… and his opportune green thumb allows the film to extend the idea of nurturing and male affection even further. Convenient? Yes… but wildly effective. Ljungman manages to avoid almost every cliché of the juvenile delinquent character and his witty choices carry several scenes. Amazing young actor, and considering his expert costars that’s saying something.
If anything I wish the film had pushed a little further outside the narrative track towards the unconventional happy family at its end. A few convenient complications allowed Patrik to remain marooned in the hated homo-house. Likewise, there is a quick change-of-heart that lets the ending button neatly that felt unearned. I knew why those needed to be so, but I wish they had been more motivated. And at times, I did spot where the story was going, and the resolution felt a little comfortable. But then, I’m a bitter cuss.
Still, if you are looking for a fluffy romp about twinks hooking up in candy-colored underpants, you’re gonna wanna look elsewhere. Likewise, this is a Swedish film subtitled into English; I know some people are stymied by such things, and more’s the pity. If you’ve never been one for foreign films, this is a lovely place to start.
This charming story captures the very best of what makes human relationships dramatic and hilarious. If you are a parent or a child, if you are married or single, if you believe that families can surprise you, you should see this film. You will laugh and you will cry. Patrik 1.5 is a heartwarming family comedy from stem to stern and deserves much more attention than it’s received in the States.