Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Original Title: Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann
Director: Felix Herngren.
Screenplay: Felix Herngren, Hans Ingemansson. Novel by Jonas Jonasson.
Runtime: 114 minutes.
Cast: Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg, Mia Skäringer.
Plot: About to celebrate his 100th birthday in the retirement village he calls home, Allan Karlsson decides to blow it all and escapes, very slowly, out the window – in the process accidentally stealing 100 million kronor in a suitcase, sparking off a police investigation, and earning the ire of a crime boss who wants him dead. Things get stranger from there, as Allan entangles several more hapless souls in his impromptu flight. But Allan is used to this – as he recounts a colourful history of living a century, meeting every historical figure imaginable and always putting his foot in it.
Review: Based on the international best selling book of the same name, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared does its best to adapt what is at its heart an endearing shaggy dog story and cock-eyed view of 20th century Western history. The results are mixed, with the usual adaption problems of some languid periods followed by somewhat cramped action and development, but overall the film captures the spirit of its source material. To be honest, this is a film best seen at home rather than the theatre – imagine settling down after dinner on a quiet Friday night, with family and friends, to have a few drinks and laugh at some giant explosions. The 100 Year Old Man delivers explosions and in spades, never taking itself too seriously (sometimes to its detriment; audiences will cringe at a forced-sterilisation plot point). The jokes land, the historical figure impersonations amusing enough to get away with it (Einstein’s dumber brother is a particular highlight), and Allan and his gang are compelling enough characters to sustain the length of the film. Allan’s happy-go-lucky approach may not work in real life, but it is enjoyable enough for audiences to relax into here.
In terms of plot, The Hundred Year Old Man follows two parallel tracks that are intercut – Allan’s flight from his own birthday party at the retirement village, and a narration of Allan’s incident full life up to that point. Several things endeared me to the character straight away, including his penchant for drinking; Allan makes to most of every situation and hopes for the best, but is always up for a wry line when things go wrong. Robert Gustafsson’s performance in the role is low key, but he’s right for the job and also convincingly transforms from a younger man into the centenarian we know today. Where Gustafsson is a little too old to get away with that point in Allan’s youth, it is played by him for laughs anyway – a nice touch which helps contribute to the casualness of the film. The account of Allan’s life follows the book closely, and he runs into nearly every major figure – from Franco, to Stalin, to FDR, and so on, leading to some nice cross pollination (Stalin becomes furious at having his drunken dancing compared to Franco’s drunken dancing). Unfortunately, the translation of format loses some of the charm of the novel, as part of the fun is Allan’s almost compulsively naïve narration of world history as he witnesses it, and can never really be recaptured in judicious narration. The film never really finds a way to compensate for this; hitting most of the enjoyable elements of the book, but unable to find a new and original way to create some comedy of its own. That said, actually seeing the elephant who constitutes an essential element of the plot is far more amusing that I could ever have imagined. As one gang member learns, death by being sat on is not pleasant.
The supporting cast is competent enough but unfortunately eclipsed by the other elements of the film. Iwar Wiklander as Julius, Allen’s newly acquired and cheerfully criminal friend, makes an impression with his pitch perfect characterisation, but with the frame already so overstuffed the others are less noticeable. A romance strikes up between other hapless group members Benny (David Wiberg) and Gunilla (Mia Skäringer), but due to its late appearance in an already overcrowded caper it is hard to get invested in this development. The incidental counterpoint to the film’s main narratives is provided by a downtrodden detective inspector who is always a step behind, while gang leader Gäddan (Jens Hultén) and master-at-arms Hinken (Sven Lönn) provide comic relief from the comic relief.
I’d heartily recommend The 100 Year Old Man as something a little familiar, a little different, a fair amount enjoyable for that Friday night in. You may not remember too much from it months afterwards, but there will be amusing bits that stick in the mind – a Soviet submarine surfacing in a river in the middle of a genteel neighbourhood, and Allan trying and failing to teach Herbert Einstein a cunning escape plan will always stick with me. So give it a go.
Rating: Three stars.