'Patrik, Age 1.5': This Kid's Not Quite All Right

Gustaf Skarsgard, Torkel Petersson

hide captionIt's A Boy: Goran (Gustaf Skarsgard, younger brother of True Blood's Alexander and son of veteran actor Stellan) and Sven (Torkel Petersson) learn they've been approved to adopt a young son. But the adoption doesn't go exactly as planned.

Anders Jorgensen/Regent Releasing

Patrik, Age 1.5

  • Director: Ella Lemhagen
  • Genre: Art, Foreign, Drama
  • Running Time: 100 minutes
Unrated. Strong language, some sexual content.

With: Gustaf Skarsgard, Torkel Petersson, Tom Ljungman, Amanda Davin

Is it coincidence, savvy marketing or a cultural new wave that, hot on the heels of The Kids Are All Right, a Swedish film about a gay couple trying to adopt breezes into American theaters during a parched climate for foreign-film exhibition?

Because at a minimum, that's two movies so far this year that casually take gay marriage as a starting point. If Ella Lemhagen's Patrik, Age 1.5, which she adapted and directed from a stage play by Michael Druker, shows us that the Swedes are way ahead of us when it comes to equal rights, her resolutely mainstream dramedy delivers the message that with a legislative or judicial victory, the struggle for broader social recognition only begins.

As the movie opens, Goran and Sven, a suburban gay married couple, receive with subtly varying degrees of delight the news that they've been approved to adopt a boy — a toddler, just 1 1/2 years old. The catch comes early when, due to a clerical error, the long-awaited Patrik turns out to be not 1.5, but 15, and a lout fresh from raising hell in the only family that will have him — a juvenile home. And not only is Patrik undersocialized, he's also homophobic.

Dramatically speaking, though, he's not enough of either to make for much more than a cute combo of situation comedy and tear-jerking movie of the week. Things go wrong repeatedly in ways that disclose untended fissures in the relationship between Goran, a sensitive doctor yearning for domesticity, and Sven, a tattooed businessman with anger issues, a love of firm young flesh and a tendency under stress to reach for the bottle.

In other words, just your average suburban marital discord — except that this particular marriage plays out under the microscope of a local community stranded between tolerance in principle and confusion (at best) in practice.

Tom Ljungman i i

hide captionNo Bundle Of Joy: Patrik (Tom Ljungman, of Let the Right One In) is a 15-year-old homophobic juvenile delinquent — not the baby boy Goran and Sven expected to adopt.

Anders Jorgensen/Regent Releasing
Tom Ljungman

No Bundle Of Joy: Patrik (Tom Ljungman, of Let the Right One In) is a 15-year-old homophobic juvenile delinquent — not the baby boy Goran and Sven expected to adopt.

Anders Jorgensen/Regent Releasing

All of which might go someplace fresh and surprising if Lemhagen wasn't shilling for happy endings from the word go. Conveniently, young Patrik turns out to be a skilled gardener and flower lover, and before you can say Boy Scout of the Year, he's earning an honest buck sprucing up Goran's backyard, then those of the entire neighborhood. His rehab, heartening though it is, is too swift and complete to be plausible in a teenager as deeply scarred as he is.

Yet Patrik, Age 1.5 does go further than The Kids Are All Right in its willingness to test the limits of mainstream tolerance for emerging family forms. Charming as it is, Lisa Cholodenko's sunny romp barely engages with the straight world outside the cozy nest set up by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore's lesbian-couple protagonists — Mark Ruffalo's hippie sperm donor is too liberal to count.

Patrik, too, aspires to be a smiley, commercial Hollywood movie, yet it can't help but stray (thank heavens) into biting European satire of suburbia, wittily portrayed here as a candy-colored faux idyll populated by barbecuing citizens whose welcoming smiles freeze in panic when confronted with the gay couple whose rights to marry they likely voted for. The movie's most telling moments are ancillary: In one searing scene, Goran's mutually consoling chat with a similarly abandoned straight neighbor turns ugly when the drunken man makes an insinuation about Goran's relationship with his foster son that lays bare the chilling power relations behind heterosexual respectability.

It's hard not to warm to the conciliatory spirit that ties the loose ends of this sweet movie up in a tidy bow. But I for one was left rooting for the loose ends.

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