BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE (2019)
Starring Pernilla August, Anders Mossling, Malin Levanon, Peter Haber, Mahmut Suvakci, Lancelot Ncube, Olle Sarri, Vera Vitali, Cecilia Milocco, Stella Oyoko Bengtsson, Dion Llapashtica, Hans Brorson, Ella Juliusson Sturk, Johanna Westfelt, Abdouile Sise, Elliot Alabi Andersson, Sigrid Högberg, Nils Magnusson, Princess Wesseh and Kevin Wesseh.
Screenplay by Tuva Novotny, Anders Frithiof August & Øystein Karlsen.
Directed by Tuva Novotny.
Distributed by Cohen Media Group. 94 minutes. Not Rated.
Excellent films are easy to review. The same can be said about supremely terrible films. The hardest films to share are the mediocre. Particularly when the film is based on one of my favorite novels – Britt-Marie Was Here, published in 2014 by Fredrik Backman.
I feel like, for the most part, my reviews on novel-based films have been pretty fair, and I have reviewed a good amount of them. I admit that because this particular novel is one of my favorites, the bar was set pretty high. However, that bar was set high because the film adaptation of another Backman book, the 2012 novel A Man Called Ove, was really entertaining.
Sadly, the film adaptation of Britt-Marie Was Here falls flat.
Britt-Marie is a character’s character. In written form, she is super quirky, opinionated and orderly. She is a carefully developed, well-rounded character with depth, meaning, and the best intentions. She magically transforms her role as a nag-hag neighbor in 2013’s novel My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry into a beloved character that earns her right to have her story told in Britt-Marie Was Here.
In spite of her lack of understanding of football, her addiction to baking soda and cleaning supplies, and her habit of rearranging other people’s cutlery drawers in her very specific way, Britt-Marie is a completely relatable, tenacious character. You wouldn’t think that someone who, at first glance, seems most notable for her ability to rearrange forks and knives, would be so easy to fall in love with. However, she works her way into the heart of the townspeople of the town of Borg and the heart of readers.
The Swedish film basically follows the plot of the novel, starting with the introduction of Britt-Marie (played by Pernilla August) in the context of her orderly life with husband Kent (played by Peter Haber). She runs the household while Kent rushes away daily to his important job and rushes back late in the evening with only football on the brain. He rarely takes the time to acknowledge his wife.
When circumstances lead her to realize that he has been cheating on her, Britt-Marie leaves her ring, takes her cash stash, and moves away.
This is her first taste of independence, where freedom and fear coincide. The film touches very briefly on the challenges of a 63-year-old woman finding a job with only underappreciated in-home prior experience. This is a story point focused on more in the novel that helps to endear the character to the reader.
So, it is with little conflict, Britt-Marie heads off to the “failing” town of Borg (in quotes because, well, aside from some graffiti, it doesn’t come off as failing the way the book describes). She goes there to head the community’s youth program, which includes coaching the town’s football team, a role that young local Sami (played by Lancelot Ncube) had applied for and was denied.
Herein lies one of the many times that the storyline strays from the book, needlessly, because there is nothing done with this story variance. No conflict. No power struggles. Certainly, none of the humanity that readers love about the character of Sami, who struggles to balance the responsibility of raising his two younger siblings with obligation to a polemic friend (who is completely written out of the film, along with other beloved characters).
As Borg’s youth starts to realize that this newcomer to town is to be their coach, their responses are funny and appropriate. There are some good moments between Britt-Marie and the kids from Borg, particularly when she has them help clean up their community center. However, they never reach the coach/player status that you get with other underdog sports films – a feel that the novel achieves.
Also, the infatuation of Borg’s police chief, Sven (played by Anders Mossling) with Britt-Marie feels far more superficial in the film than in the novel. This isn’t a surprising thing, for this film that already feels more superficial in the full sum of its parts. For a film whose target audience can’t help but be its readers, it will be disappointing.
In the end, the lack of depth is what makes Britt-Marie Was Here a mediocre viewing experience. It’s never bad, it just frustratingly never hits really good… and Britt-Marie deserves better.
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 27, 2019.