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"Family dinner or a funeral? I'd rather go to a funeral. At least there's one less idiot, then."
DVD ReviewOne thing's for certain: the Icelandic Tourism Bureau won't be distributing copies of this movie any time soon. The film is set in the capital city, as its title implies, and life in Reykjavik seems like little more than a constant battle against the elements in cramped quarters—this generally seems to involve lots of alcohol and random couplings with people that you and all your pals have already slept with. Life in Iceland seems like the worst fraternity party imaginable gone horribly, horribly wrong, for years and years at a time.
At age 30, our hero, Hlynur (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) still lives with Mommy, Berglind (Hanna Maria Karlsdottir), as he's on some unspecified disability—the government check comes in every month, freeing him up to drink beer and surf the net for porn. Despite having nothing much to recommend him—perhaps because the pickings seem so slim?—Hlynur has a young lady interested in him: Hofy (Thrudur Vilhjalmsdottir) is attractive, employed, and all too eager to start a family. Hlynur sleeps with her, but can't bear to spend the night, and shortly after the deed retreats to the safety of Mother's house. Oh, dear.
Mixing it all up is Lola (Almodóvar veteran Victoria Abril), Berglind's flamenco teacher. (Just why this Spaniard has unwisely relocated to Iceland is never made entirely clear.) Since Lola is all alone on the tundra, Berglind invites her to spend Christmas with her and Hlynur—what seems at first blush like an innocuous holiday visit soon turns into a life-altering experience for all involved, involving (what a shock!) still more alcohol and sex. There are some seriously unexpected plot twists, which I won't give away here, but let me actively dissuade you from reading the copy on the back of the DVD case, which spills many of the beans.
Some of this is funny, but the script is better at punchlines than at storytelling—the biggest problem, really, is that Hlynur doesn't make for much of a hero. He has no ambition, no friends, no winning attributes, treats the people around him horribly—all of which might be all right if he were astonishingly winning or funny, but he isn't. He's got the wryness and sarcasm of all of his countrymen, forever fighting the good fight to survive in this brutal place—but that's no excuse for acting like a jackass, which he does, almost all of the time.
In some respects the film works best as a bizarre portrait of life in Reykjavik—in Hlynur and Berglind's apartment, the bathtub is right next to the kitchen table, and he blithely takes his bath as Berglind and Lola have their breakfast. Perhaps it's evidence of a cultural divide, but to my mind there's just something flat-out wrong about a 30-year-old prancing around the kitchen naked until Mom passes him a towel. (I mean, I stopped doing that when I was 25.)
On many levels Abril is the warmest thing in the movie—she mixes up the lives of her new Icelandic friends, and she's a bright and vital presence on screen. The filmmakers go to the well a few times too often, though, for pretty much every time she appears or is discussed, we're treated to an Icelandic cover of the Kinks' Lola. It's very funny the first time, but as a musical motif it becomes a bit tiresome.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: A pretty solid transfer, ably reproducing the grim grays and blues of the Icelandic landscape. Occasional scratches and bits of dirt interfere with the overall video presentation.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Slightly excessive ambient noise interferes occasionally, but otherwise the audio tracks are pretty clean. It's more Icelandic than I've ever heard before, that's for sure; in the story, Lola doesn't speak a word, and communicates in English, in which everyone in Reykjavik seems to be fluent.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Irma Vep, Un Air de famille, Clockwatchers, A Couch in New York, Hugo Pool, Stolen Kisses, Venus Beauty Institute
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsSome of this is funny, though it works best as an unintentional Icelandic travelogue, and doesn't really hang together as a well-told story. It will get you reaching for your parka or a beer, or both.
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