Friday, August 6, 2010

Family values done right: Ella Lemhagen's PATRIK, AGE 1.5 opens at Quad & NuArt

The beauty of PATRIK, AGE 1.5 -- easily the best gay-themed movie since Brokeback Mountain (though not nearly as sad and dark) -- resides in how fully its writer/director Ella Lemhagen (shown below) takes her rather standard sit-com situation and brings it to wonderful, thorough life.  Once you understand the premise here, though it takes about a third of the film to set it up, there will be no doubt about where the film is headed nor how things will work out. Yet, so interestingly and believably does Ms Lemhagen twist and turn the events within her story, that this outcome proves utterly satisfying.  Here's a feel-good movie that earns every last bit of its good feeling.

Ms Lemhagen accomplishes this via a route that's smart and less-traveled. Her movie is an adoption story about a gay couple (Gustaf Skarsgård and Torkel Petersson, both exceedingly fine actors) who profess to want a child and are proceeding toward that end through the usual bureaucratic government maze (even in Sweden, this is standard, I guess).  When said child arrives and the problems begin in earnest, instead of solving them all via one-on-one father/child confrontation/resolution, the movie take a different route.  Progress is made more via the oddball community-at-large, with the boy Patrick (a smart, slow-to-show-feeling performance from Thomas Ljungman, pictured below, right, and two photos down) making use of his background to bond cautiously with those around him, and warming up but very slowly to his dads.

The fathers themselves have some major problems that only begin to emerge when the kid comes upon the scene.  These ups and downs are handled particularly well, with the writing and direction (both by Lemhager, from a play by Michael Druker) alert to the psychology of these characters. Consequently there is not a situation or line of dialog that rings false -- quite an accomplishment for this genre of film.

One of the fathers was earlier married and has a daughter who is clearly still coming to terms with her dad's "desertion" and sexual preference.  His ex-wife is around, too, and forms an interesting bond with her ex-husbands' new partner.  This extended family, plus various neighbors and workplace personnel, finally forms an entire world, full of the surprise, pleasure and pain found in all of our lives.  This proves the key to the great success of Patrick, Age 1.5.  Better than most movies tackling gay themes, it makes this life seems real and "normal," with it's own set of "family values" every bit as relevant, necessary and right as those of any other family. And it does this without special pleading or sentimentality.  It simply shows and tells it like it is -- for this particular set of characters.

Homophobia, by the way, is ever-present in this scenario -- sometimes obvious and sometimes not.  So deal with it, Lemhagen and her cast and crew seem to be advising us.  It will not disappear, but may in time grow less.  This film takes a big step in moving us toward that time.

Patrick, Age 1.5, from Regent Releasing, opens today, Friday, August 6, in New York City at the Quad Cinema, and in Los Angeles at the NuArt.

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