Jonas Jonasson’s savage international best-seller, “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” gets a spirited big-screen adaptation in what many folks have called the Swedish Forrest Gump. But do not let a few über-serious American critics scare you away with their reviews of the film. There’s a rare kind of magic that takes place on screen here and the outing—*** (out of four)—is a refreshing surprise among the pre-summer crop of big-budget blockbusters already filling the cinematic landscape.
Three main things work in the film’s favor, chief amongst them the delightful Robert Gustafsson in the lead role as Allan Karlsson. The other two perks: the cast and the fanciful story, which does its best here to reflect the book’s trajectory.
Gustafsson’s Allan is a likeable character at a crossroads. You see, it’s Allan’s 100th birthday, however, he cannot bear being on the receiving end of a candle-infested birthday cake, song and the forced cheerfulness from the nursing home staff and other notables who marvel that somebody has hit the century mark. No. This is not his style at all. Instead, Allan decides it’s never really too late to, well, start over and seeing that he’s 100 and has little to lose, he seizes the moment and climbs out of the home’s first floor window.
A journey into the unknown ensues.
Of course, this isn’t the first time our Allan has embarked into uncharted territory. We soon discover that he has spent many of his years skydiving into life’s abyss. In fact, his history has been undeniably colorful because of it and the serendipity that accompanies him along the way is priceless if not rather unbelievable.
But this is the way Allan has always lead his life—or life has lead him.
Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that the younger Allan has influenced significant moments of history, most often by chance—my, what major decisions would have befell the likes of Franco, Hoover, Reagan, or Stalin for that matter, if this Allan, a Pied Piper of sorts, had not entered the picture.
While the flashbacks require the audience to suspend belief, the majority of them act as tent poles to the present day storyline, which is far more interesting. At a train and bus depot, Allan takes a thug’s suitcase—the contents of that parcel are indeed valuable. In a trek to another town, Allan befriends Julius (Iwar Wiklander) and the two men ponder life—until the thug shows up, but, like most of the villains who pop in the film, the man meets his fate in a rather absurd way. Later, in an attempt to cover up a crime they did not intend to commit, Allan and Julius stumble upon a befuddled soul, Benny—David Wiberg delivers a wonderful spin as an insecure, perpetual student who has almost finished every academic discipline imaginable. Benny agrees to help and the troika wind up seeking refuge on the small farm of another stranger, Gunilla (Mia Skäringer), who happens to be harboring a circus elephant named Sonya.
Yes. An elephant.
Toss in a few more thugs looking for their thug comrade, a mad man wanting the contents of the suitcase that Allan swiped and a head-scratching police investigator, and you have the makings of a wild comedy, the likes of which hearken back to some of the films that emerged from Hollywood in the late 1960s and 1970s—What’s Up Doc? comes to mind.
Still, under Felix Herngren’s direction, something unique is infused into this caper—heart and soul. To the filmmaker’s credit, and perhaps the book’s, too, we are given reflections about life and the meaning of it all. We’re dealing with a 100-year-old gent here, let’s remember that. Without some musings about lessons learned, we may have sneered at the film and shunned its bombastic overtones. Instead, we taken in by this spunky tale, which on some level, offers a reminder that it’s never too late to chuck conventionality and walk onto the furthest edges of the tree limbs that fill out own lives, preferably with more frequency and trust.
Here’s to disappearing into that.