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, 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 about these char­ac­ters is to no­tice how they are com­plex peo­ple 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.

July 5, 2017

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