Argumentative married couple Greg Bruce and Zanna Gillespie review Britt-Marie Was Here.
Deservingness of tears: 1
Quantity of cliche: 5
Scientific rigour of moral: 0
Greg likes sports. He played a lot growing up and, before we were overrun by children, he watched a lot on television. I, however, come from a long matriarchal line of sports-avoiders. I don't watch and, if I did, I'd want every game to end in a tie so no one had to go home sad. It seems unlikely, then, that I should be the one welling up when Team Borg scored their triumphant goal in Britt-Marie Was Here, but I was. Greg felt nothing, nada, diddly. Unfortunately, this says more about me than it does about the film. Clearly, I'm very easily manipulated, because Britt-Marie didn't really earn my tears at all.
It had all the right elements for a classic underdog film but none of them were sufficiently drawn out. It was just a bit thin. The titular character, who discovers early on that her husband of 30 years is having an affair, is boring. And, while the film opens promisingly with a quirky narration from Britt-Marie summarising her life, which revolved around maintaining order in her Scandi-chic kitchen drawers, it fails to deliver the heartfelt, possibly funny, film it promises.
There's a budding romance that comes out of nowhere and is based on nothing. There's a lovely set-up for a story about two women who help each other overcome grief by coaching a kids' football team together but it's unfulfilled. There's a team of children who've apparently got nothing to live for except an upcoming football tournament but we learn nothing of their personalities, nor see them gain anything from Britt-Marie, nor her anything from them, which would seem to be the primary goal of this genre.
When it was over, Greg attempted to re-write the film to be about Britt-Marie and her husband's mistress moving to Borg together and fighting for the job of football coach - literally wrestling for it - but ultimately falling in love. I told him it sounded like a porno. He agreed, but still thought it would've been better.
Prior to watching it, I repeatedly referred to this film as "How Stella Got Her Groove Back But With White People", which is what I'd gleaned from the synopsis I'd half-listened to Greg reading aloud. Unfortunately, it was nothing like that film, but it did make this sports sceptic cry, so if you need a victory sob and you're as easily manipulated as me, Britt-Marie might just manage to squeeze a little happy moisture from your ducts.
This is a horribly cliched, paint-by-numbers sporting underdog story tacked on to an under-developed fish-out-of-water story, overlaid with a narratively incoherent elder romance, underpinned by a ham-fisted, overblown moral implying that the things that will make us happy are loving football and going to Paris. When I told Zanna this, she said I was wrong about the moral and it was clearly about finding your own joy instead of devoting your life to someone else, to which I replied, "I found my joy with you." She didn't reply to that.
The day before watching the movie, I had finished reading a book called The Craving Mind, which I think - but am not entirely sure - makes the argument that the relentless pursuit of passions offers a more or less direct route to misery.
With its heavy-handed message, Britt-Marie Was Here is itself a self-help text. But, unlike The Craving Mind, which makes its case via rigorous science including fMRIs, carefully designed experiments and peer-reviewed published research, Britt-Marie makes its case via a hokey story and emotional manipulation, which, as we know, is far more powerful. This, I guess, is what has propelled the movie from its native Sweden to Auckland cinemas, in spite of its many limitations and subtitles.
After the movie, I told Zanna The Craving Mind had sold me on a vision of a path to joy via the acceptance of life as it is, rather than the pursuit of passions. Because she hates me being negative and often calls me "Negative Nelly" and, because I don't enjoy that characterisation, I added: "Having said that, taking care of yourself is important and I think in that context, chasing your passions is valuable."
"Wow," she said, "You're all over the place. I mean, is it or isn't it?"
That was a powerful question. I really didn't know. I wanted to email The Craving Mind's author Judson Brewer and ask but wanting answers is itself an example of a craving mind.
I said none of that to Zanna, though. What I said instead, was: "In an even greater sense, I think watching movies for fulfilment now is out the window. The idea of getting excited about a movie - the brief fulfilment of getting excited about watching a movie - I think we have to chuck that away."
She gave me a long, searching look and said, "You're just saying that to be provocative." She also said: "Isn't watching a movie just living in the moment?"
There seemed to be something in that. I was more confused than ever. I felt entirely unable at that point to say what we need to live a good life, but quite confident in saying it didn't include Britt-Marie Was Here.