Elevated by charming performances and with a delightful sense of humor, Patrik, Age 1.5 is an adorable film about love and acceptance
Patrik, Age 1.5 (Patrik 1,5) (2008)
Written and directed by Ella Lemhagen, based on a story by Michael Druker. Starring Gustaf Skarsgård, Torkel Petersson, Tom Ljungman, Amanda Davin and Annika Hallin.
Patrik, Age 1.5 is the kind of film that makes you want to hug it. Sensitive, heartwarming and absolutely adorable, this Swedish comedic drama has a familiar structure that could have been packed with clichés but is instead developed in an always honest and believable way. Even better, it benefits from two immensely charming performances by Gustaf Skarsgård and Tom Ljungman, who earn our empathy towards their characters and their sincere desire to be happy like the rest of us.
Written by director Ella Lemhagen and inspired by a stage play, Patrik, Age 1.5 tells the story of gay couple Göran (Skarsgård) and Sven (Torkel Petersson), who move into an idyllic suburban neighborhood where they plan to adopt a child and build a “normal” happy family. One day, after a long wait, they receive a letter informing them they can finally adopt an orphan: “Patrik 1,5.” Assuming that Patrik is a one-and-a-half-year-old baby, Göran and Sven are shocked when a 15-year-old homophobic delinquent called Patrik (Ljungman) shows up at their door. As they try to figure out what to do with the boy, the teenager’s presence in their house begins to reveal some serious fissures in the couple’s seemingly perfect relationship.
With a delightful sense of humor that never feels forced or exaggerated, Patrik, Age 1.5 offers us a comic slice of suburbia: a long street flanked by identical houses of different colors and where even a neighborhood watch makes sure that the perfect little straight families who live there can tend to their perfect little gardens in peace. This fable-like depiction of suburban life in Sweden is made especially cuter by the film’s predilection for strong primary colors (even in the lighting), which emphasizes how surreal and too perfect to be true everything looks — an ideal of family life that Gören strives so hard to achieve for himself and his marriage.
But while I love its humorous moments — and there are plenty of them, like when Sven lights a cigarette and almost sets his nose on fire (my favorite) — the film is even better when commenting on the stupidity of homophobia. This is not only illustrated by the ignorant way Patrik speaks about gays (basically as a synonym for pedophiles) but also the fact that even Gören and Sven’s neighbors’ kids call them “fags” over and over again without having any idea what the word means — a clear indication of how children are simply taught by their intolerant parents to hate certain people just because they are different.
And Patrik, Age 1.5 makes it quite evident that Gören and Sven love each other probably more than most of the straight people in that neighborhood (some of whom even have affairs and only try to keep up appearances). No matter how different these two men are from each other (and they are!), there is a lot of care and affection between them, which the film emphasizes when using a warm red light in their home in contrast to the cold blue that comes from the outside. But the most wonderful thing about these characters is to notice how complex they are with their own well-defined personalities and aspirations.
Sven, for instance, is a loving but alcoholic and short-tempered man who loves country music and doesn’t feel so sure about embracing married life again. Gören, on the other hand, is a sensitive guy who moves us with his sweet generosity and hope, like when he destroys his little garden in an outburst of frustration only to quickly put it back together. Skarsgård is so charming, in fact, that it is easy to see how Gören gains Patrik’s sympathy, while Ljungman makes us understand why Patrik uses his insolence as a way to protect himself from more pain and disappointment, like what he has experienced his entire life.
With a great soundtrack that includes a lovely cover version of Dolly Parton’s Here You Come Again, Patrik, Age 1.5 may seem predictable but demolishes our expectations every time we think we know what will happen — which only proves that, with the right actors and an honest story full of heart about love and acceptance, there is very little that can go wrong.