When most audiences think of Swedish films, often it’s dour Ingmar Bergman or “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” franchise. But in Sweden, “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared” has apparently struck a chord of national pride. Since its 2013 domestic release, the kooky tale of a centenarian who flees a nursing home and goes on a series of misadventures has been a box office bonanza vying to become the top-grossing Swedish film of all time, a record held by “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
The film opens with grumpy Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson), an explosives freak who lives alone in the hinterlands, getting revenge on a fox that eats Allan’s beloved cat Molotov by blowing the fox to bits. But that turns out to be the biggest laugh in the movie, unless severed heads bouncing across car hoods and the young Allan dancing with General Franco in Spain and getting drunk with Stalin in Russia is your sort of shtick. Apparently it is for much of Scandinavia.
The movie has a contemporary story line as Allan is remanded to a nursing home but escapes on his 100th birthday. Through an encounter with a stranger at a bus station in the middle of nowhere, Allan unwittingly ends up with a suitcase full of money. Remarkably fit for a centenarian, Allan goes on the lam with a pair of oddballs: the likable but bumbling Julius (Iwar Wiklander) and the hapless bus station clerk Benny (David Wiberg) who’s sent to find them. The trio flee both the police and a gang of bikers bent on recovering the cash. They end up on a farm run by pretty Gunilla (Mia Skaringer), who houses a rescued circus elephant in her stables.
The second, slightly better story line is Allan’s narration that whisks the viewer on a tour of his colorful past, which includes heading off on a lark to fight in the Spanish Civil War and later befriending Herbet Einstein (Albert’s dimwit brother) at a Soviet gulag where Allan’s sent for offending Stalin.
Those fanciful historical encounters have earned the film comparisons with “Forrest Gump,” but it’s a superficial similarity (other than that both movies are overrated). An early scene has young Allan in a psychiatric hospital due to his fascination with explosives, where he’s diagnosed as mentally deficient and sterilized. But it’s never explained what Allan’s mental state is, other than lovable geriatric rascal-itis, an irritating trope that hardly constitutes a certifiable condition.
“The 100-Year-Old Man” may appeal to viewers who like the madcap and the whimsical, no matter how self-conscious. Me, I’ll take Max von Sydow’s moroseness any day.
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