3 / 5 stars
If you’re one of those rare Oscar followers who feels compelled to search out every nominated film – not just the Best Picture nominees, but all honorees – I’ve got you covered with the most WTF title of the 2015 ceremony. In the Makeup & Hairstyling category (try to contain your excitement), lined up next to Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, was the little-known Swedish feature with the exceedingly long title: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Thankfully, makeup is the least interesting aspect of this blithe, occasionally awkwardly constructed comedy, based on the big global bestseller from Jonas Jonasson.
Think of 100-Year-Old Man as Forrest Gump with explosives. The unassuming title character narrates his century-long penchant for blowing stuff up, and how it serendipitously connected him with some of history’s most famous men. Franco. Truman. Oppenheimer. Albert Einstein’s moronic brother, Herbert. The mix of reality and absurdity gives Felix Herngren’s film a pleasant patter, but the energy feels too loose and strangely artificial.
I imagine fans of the book relishing the idea of seeing Allan Karlsson’s life on-screen, but I can’t imagine it being as satisfying as how most visualized the strong concept on their own. Although Herngren’s adaptation conveys confidence, the execution is rickety, with many of the period pieces looking stagy. As Karlsson, Robert Gustafsson overplays the character’s devil-may-care attitude – he’s so laid-back and unconcerned about his surroundings that he feels as dull and unaccountable as Gump himself. Karlsson needs to display some concern, worry, even elation… any emotional investment would have made for a fuller viewing experience. As it stands, the movie suffers from too much passivity – Karlsson is the only reason we’re into the adventure, and maybe he’s just not that into it.
But that doesn’t diminish 100-Year-Old Man’s easier charms. Karlsson’s attitude makes him easily likable since he carries no judgment. On his 100th birthday, he’s enticed by a young kid who’s mischievously lighting off fireworks just outside his nursing home. So, as the title promises, Karlsson climbs out the window and just keeps going, like some lost puppy sniffing around town. His impatience takes him to the bus station, where he encounters a vicious gang member, and then unwittingly gets on the bus with the guy’s suitcase full of millions.
Talk about stacking the deck for us to like the old guy. As an international crime syndicate hunts him down, Karlsson recounts his life adventures (albeit, with a choppy English language voiceover). The stories skip along happily, inspiring the occasional smile more than big laugh – Karlsson’s year-long Gulag imprisonment with the idiot Einstein is a very funny standout, and probably makes the best use of Gustafsson’s water-off-a-duck’s-back approach to Karlsson’s life.
Herngren finds some tender, valuable performances from a pair of actors playing a meek graduate student and a strong local woman, two characters that add some needed color and a change to the film’s rhythms. There’s some effectively funny slapstick, a budding love story, a sweet elephant. All just enough for an enjoyable European ditty.
As for that Oscar nomination? Eh. I suppose voters were impressed with the artists’ ability to turn Gustafsson from a guy in his late 40s into a centenarian. Okay. You’re not seeing 100-Year-Old Man because it was nominated for a makeup Oscar. Or maybe you are.