Swede On Her
They're calling it Show Me Love outside of Sweden, where writer-director Lukas Moodysson's seriocomic account of discontent teenagers sold almost as many tickets as Titanic. Back home, however, this deliberately rough-edged but warmhearted movie was known as Fucking Amal. Don't laugh: Amal is a place, not a person. And judging from what we see of it on screen, if you lived there as a teenager, you likely would speak of it in much the same way.
Amal is the kind of safe and secluded town where parents move when they want to raise their children far away from the corrupting influences of big-city life. For the kids, however, Amal is Nowheresville, a place so far removed from any excitement that by the time a trend finally reaches town, it's already out of fashion.
Elin (Alexandra Dahlstrom), a restless and rebellious 14-year-old beauty, desperately wants to escape from her terminally boring everyday life by cutting loose and hanging out at a late-night rave. Unfortunately, as Elin's older sister dutifully points out, all the glossy magazines have already declared that raves are "out." Elin is crushed -- and all the more eager to do something else that's new and dangerous. She's even willing to raid her mother's medicine cabinet in a pitiful attempt to "do drugs." The only mood-enhancing chemical she finds, regrettably, is antacid tablets.
In many ways, Show Me Love is markedly similar to the made-in-the-USA teen-oriented comedy-dramas that have proliferated in recent years. But Show Me Love delves a bit deeper, and seems more realistic, than your garden-variety Hollywood product stocked with teen icons from Dawson's Creek or Party of Five.
Moodysson, a 30-year-old auteur making his feature debut, approaches his subjects with the inquisitive eye, and the darting camera, of a documentarian. Show Me Love is photographed in grainy 16mm, with lots of shock zooms, swish pans and other handheld flourishes. He gets up close and personal with his characters, many of whom are played by nonprofessional actors, as though he wanted to intrude on them, to intimidate them into honesty. This technique goes way beyond a self-conscious stab at pseudorealism and actually enhances the emotional pull of the movie. We often are made to feel like we're eavesdropping on real conflicts, real conversations. In short, real lives.
Even as Elin mopes and whines about the singular lack of excitement in Amal, she is worshiped from afar by two different shy admirers. Johan (Mathias Rust), an amiable but rather bland classmate, is so taken with Elin that he clips her picture out his yearbook and tucks it inside his wallet. As obsessive as he might seem, however, Johan has nothing on 16-year-old Agnes (Rebecca Liljeberg), a relatively new arrival in Amal, who spends most of her copious free time daydreaming of Elin.
Agnes is an attractive and intelligent girl. And yet, for the vaguely defined reasons that any high school outcast, past or present, will appreciate, she simply doesn't fit in with the "in" crowd. Indeed, she is so unpopular that she positively cringes when her well-meaning but totally clueless parents insist that she invite her classmates over for her birthday party. Agnes is stunned when Elin actually shows up -- remember, Elin is ready to go anywhere and do almost anything for excitement -- and then completely blissed out when Elin kisses her. But her joy quickly curdles into humiliation when she realizes that Elin planted the lip-lock only to win a bet with Jessica (Erica Carlson), her older sister, who heard from a friend of a friend that Agnes is rumored to be a lesbian.
You might get the impression from some of the early U.S. reviews that Show Me Love is yet another gay-themed coming-of-age story. In reality, though, the movie is much subtler and more complex than that. Rather than simply being "about" sexual orientation, Show Me Love is an amusing and insightful examination of young people in the act of inventing themselves. And it doesn't feel any pressing need to make sure the characters remain entirely likable as they go through their changes.
Elin actually comes across as a self-absorbed bitch throughout much of the movie. Even so, she proves capable of genuine empathy, even nobility. She is, in her fashion, open-minded about Agnes's fumbling toward a clear sense of sexual identity but remains evasive about her own sexuality. When she defiantly grabs Agnes's hand in front of nearly every other student at school, her motives are provocatively ambiguous. Is she professing true love or just stirring up trouble?
The final scene is nicely open-ended. And like everything else in Show Me Love, it rings resoundingly true.
Show Me Love. Directed by Lukas Moodysson. With Alexandra Dahlstrom and Rebecca Liljeberg. Unrated.
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