A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

My Life As a Dog (Lasse Hallström, 1985)

The American success of Hallström's off-beat but lightweight film netted him two Oscar nominations: best director and -- with co-screenwriters Reidar Jönsson, Brasse Brännström, and Per Berglund -- best adapted screenplay. (The film was based on the middle volume of a trio of novels by Jönnson.) It also brought him to Hollywood, where he has directed more off-beat but lightweight films like What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Chocolat (2000), and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011). His most successful film after coming to the States has probably been The Cider House Rules (1999), for which he received another Oscar nomination for directing; it was the perfect teaming with a similarly off-beat and lightweight novelist, John Irving. Mind you, I have nothing against either the off-beat or the lightweight: My Life As a Dog is a perfectly charming and often touching movie that showcases a wonderful performance by young Anton Glanzelius as Ingemar, who gets tossed around from relative to relative as they try to cope with the boy. There are also excellent performances by Anki Lidén as Ingemar's mother, Tomas van Brömmsen as Uncle Gunnar, and Melinda Kinnaman (half-sister of the actor Joel Kinnaman) as the pubescent Sagar, who is distressed that her emerging femininity means an end to playing soccer and boxing with the boys. Jörgen Persson's cinematography is another plus. The trouble comes only when one tries to take My Life As a Dog too seriously as a coming-of-age tale, a genre much worked-over by the movies. The lightweightness of My Life as a Dog shows in comparisons with such classics of the genre as Satyajit Ray's Aparajito (1956), François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959), and even so recent an entry as Richard Linklater's Boyhood (2014), all of which more successfully integrate the coming-of-age tale with a specific time and place. By contrast, Ingemar's life seems to be taking place in a kind of whimsical neverland that just happens to look like rural Sweden. It's an often heartfelt and certainly entertaining movie that could have been much more.