The Oscar-nominated “Elling” is an especially irritating case in point, a movie framed around two characters afflicted with such crippling social ineptitude that merely speaking with a stranger or mustering the courage to leave their apartment is offered up as some kind of earth-shaking triumph.
Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen) is a jittery middle-aged mouse of a man who suddenly finds himself institutionalized after the mother who has sheltered and pampered him for his whole life passes away. There he is roomed with Kjell Bjarne (Sven Nordin), a dim-witted fortyish oaf who dreams only of losing his virginity. Together, they form the most tired of buddy clichés, a real-life facsimile of Pinky and the Brain, unlikely friends brought together through common misfortune. Finally, after two years, Elling and Kjell Bjarne are unleashed on the world, supplied with an apartment and assigned a social worker who tirelessly presses them to overcome their neuroses in order to develop normal lives and relationships which, after considerable effort, they eventually begin to do.
That “Elling” was able to secure an Oscar nomination in place of films on the level of the Iranian “Baran” is proof positive that Academy voters are as susceptible as anyone else to this sort of cinematic pandering. Adapted from a book by Ingvar Ambjornsen, “Elling” forages for audience sympathy like a temperamental child begging for attention, giving audiences no reason to truly care for its decrepit freaks beyond the promise of a reprieve from their incessant whining.
None of this, however, should be taken to suggest that there is no audience for “Elling.” Quite to the contrary, those who consider it virtuous to be hopeless and pathetic will likely be sucked in--hopefully for good. Starring Per Christian Ellefsen, Sven Nordin, Per Christensens, Jorgen Langhelle and Marit Pia Jacobsen. Directed by Petter Næss. Written by Axel Hellstenius. Produced by Dag Alveberg. A First Look release. Drama. Norwegian-language; subtitled. Rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 88 min