Saturday, January 16, 2016

"The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared": Comedy Across Culture

Now Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Oscar Nomination: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Until the Oscar nominations were announced a couple days ago, I had never even heard of the absurdly titled The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.  It’s a rather oddball choice, particularly in Makeup and Hairstyling, an Oscar category that receives only three nominations a year and somehow managed to snub the makeup work in Star Wars.  But I do understand why this movie was nominated, as it takes its 50-year-old star, Robert Gustafsson, and ages him up to the 100-year mark and ages him down to as low as 20 and everywhere in between for a story of a man’s life lived.  It’s an impressive transformation and one that never feels phony or unnatural.  But with that acknowledgement aside, how does The 100-Year-Old Man fare as a piece of entertainment?

Well, it’s probably worth noting that this is the highest grossing Swedish comedy of all time, which at least says something of its popularity in its own country and that the comedy was universally relatable enough to make its way overseas.  And this is understandable because it is apparent pretty early on that The 100-Year-Old Man’s chief inspiration is an American classic, Forrest Gump.  The modern storyline follows our eponymous old man, Allan, on an escape from his nursing home where he stumbles across a suitcase full of money and meets a bizarre cast of characters as he unwittingly flees a pursuing biker gang.  However, the film will sometimes cut back to earlier periods of Allan’s long life and show how his simple love of explosives influenced some of the biggest events of the twentieth century.  (Guess who’s really responsible for the success of the Manhattan Project.)

The humor of this film tends to hover around the comically morbid, with absurd deaths and Allan’s naiveté played for laughs as he instigates world-changing events through alcoholic partying and searching out the biggest bombs.  What’s actually quite clever about all this is that Allan’s tendency to unwittingly get into troublesome yet grand adventures could easily be attributed to old age and confusion in the main storyline, but his flashbacks make clear that this is how he has always been and that this latest occurrence isn’t even all that unusual to him in the grand scheme of things.

Yet, as much as the film made me laugh uproariously in some key memorable moments, I do wonder if some of the comedy is lost in the language barrier and accompanying subtitles.  I think a great example is the character Benny, a perpetual graduate student who is one credit away from having a degree in just about everything, yet is filled with so much indecision that he is unable to commit and just graduate already.  Conceptually, this is a really funny joke and is even funnier in juxtaposition to Allan’s carefree “life is what it is” attitude.  However, a lot of the humor surrounding Benny is delivered via dialogue, and his awkward nature just doesn’t translate well as broad comedy.  There are moments like this that don’t feel intentionally slow, but are likely the result of the language barrier.

However, it is reasons like those that usually prevent foreign comedies from finding their way to American shores, and the fact that The 100-Year-Old Man is able to transcend those barriers for the majority of its runtime is a testament to the universality of its humor.  I watched this film to fill my need to comprehensively cover an Oscar race, but I walked away satisfied that I had seen a really funny movie.  It probably won’t win a gold statue, but this boost in visibility should extend its fame in an otherwise ignorant American market, and that’s probably as worthwhile a reason to nominate a film as any.  Check this one out.

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