Sometimes the mark of a successful film is how much you miss a character after the credits roll. I still miss Thomas, even though I saw My Life as a Comedian a week ago.
Based on Jonas Gardell’s best-selling novel and on his screenplay, director Rojda Sekersöz’s Swedish coming-of-age drama focuses on Juha Lindstrom, a successful comedian who parlayed his troubled childhood into a successful comedic act. We alternate between seeing Juha in the present-day, as a comic (played by real-life comic Johan Rheborg) settling the affairs of his deceased parents, and Juha as a young adult (Loke Hellberg) in the ‘70s, living in a maligned suburb.
The younger Juha is a class clown, who periodically takes over “fun hour” to act out increasingly elaborate and painful skits he has apparently written and rehearsed himself. Often the only ones laughing are his friends Jenny (Elisabet Xie) and Thomas (Teo Dellback). Juha is also a bit of a social climber and is just as likely to scorn or mistreat Jenny and Thomas to impress the cool crowd. As painful as these scenes are, young Juha gets redeemed by his more contemplative older self who lives with much regret.
The child actors deserve kudos and deliver performances that shouldn’t be missed. They master the heavy material by playing a wide gamut of emotions. Thomas, with his sad smile and awkward manner, has the worst birthday party I’ve seen since Parasite, due to his over-reaching mom (Kerstin Gandler). Gandler nails the out of touch with reality mother. One eventually stops laughing at the character to start worrying about what her parental ineptitude is doing to her poor son.
Sekersöz takes time to juxtaposes two parties. There is the cool kids’ party, full of drinking and heavy grinding, of course, and Thomas’ party, where everyone is forced to attend (since his mom sent out invites). There’s an agenda at the second party which involves listening to a mixtape Thomas’ mom has picked out (there are some shades of Ma here in how Thomas’ mom wants to be involved, too).
No one has fun at the party. Thomas is forced to spend his birthday with his bullies and tormentors because his mother is ignorant about the abuse he has endured.
The adults in the room are inept buffoons that leave the children to do the real growing, as is often the case in coming-of-age movies. This trope plays out over and over again in this movie; the female gym teacher who insists on seeing the effect of puberty on her charges’ penises (add pedophilia to inept buffoonery); Jenny’s mom who lies in bed all day; and Juha’s mom who thinks that remote controls (without batteries) cause cancer.