For yet another movie striving to locate amusement and sentimental solace in the shenanigans of the mentally disabled, the Norwegian soaper Elling is not as mercenary as Rain Man, as patently puerile as Benny & Joon, or as pandering as I Am Sam or Mifune. That’s as good as it gets, however—a filmmaker’s ambitions for an outpatient dramedy seem to stop by definition at guiltless giggles and a bucket of treacle. The protagonists here are Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen) and Kjell Bjarne (Sven Nordin), a pair of maladjusted, middle-aged reclusives coming out into the world from their state-funded apartment one inch at a time. The odd-couple dynamic is de rigueur: Elling is effete, bookish, and maniacally fussy, while Kjell Bjarne is lumbering, loutish, and horny. Their bittersweet gauntlets—using a phone, visiting a public rest room, ordering in a restaurant—are as predictable as the film’s constant bids for sympathy, down to the sniffle-cue piano tinkle and fish-eye reaction shots.
Despite being a preening queer caricature—a Norse Paul Lynde—Elling is essentially sexless; typically, the movie avoids issues that might make gate-crashing the lives of the semi-retarded less than festive. That neither protagonist has a distinguishable condition hardly matters because both are just actory concoctions, defined by childlike dimness and a handful of quirks (the larger of the two tends to smash his head into the wall when frustrated, for example). Elling is nothing if not carefully controlled hokum—both actors, the director, and screenwriter all worked it through first as a stage adaptation of a novel by Ingvar Ambjornsen. If the inexorable next step is an Elling & Kjell Bjarne sitcom, at least it’ll be unexportable. Notable only as the unseen Norwegian nominee for a Foreign Film Oscar last year—let’s see, Kandahar, Y Tu Mamá También, The Piano Teacher, Time Out, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, Fat Girl, and Atanarjuat were all eligible—Elling is already guilty of an inconsequential success.
Nobody fetes primal machines like Enough, but it’s the more honorable exercise—all that’s exploited is our empathy for beaten women and our hunger for payback. Fairly gripping fruit-pulp at least half the way through, Jennifer Lopez’s sojourn into bitch-slap-the-alpha-male terrain doesn’t mince circumstances, making her fearsome hubby (Bill Campbell) a wealthy, monstrously handsome, openly philandering, right-hook-throwing megalomanic demiurge whose macho viciousness is exceeded only by his male-model smugness. In fact, Campbell is the movie’s primary power source. His steely gaze and overbearing quietude are forever tainted; Once and Again doesn’t stand a chance in Lifetime reruns.
Enough works as long as it faces the horror of extreme male privilege, but dissipates quickly once Lopez begins over-preparing for a face-off with hand-to-hand combat training and calibrated techno-gadgetry. Inconsistencies abound as well, the most charming of which is the beguilingly goofy presence of Dan Futterman as Lopez’s truehearted man-prize. As usual with nearly every feminist-revenge fantasy since (but excepting) 1976’s Lipstick, the climactic whup-ass is reluctantly arrived at and rather dispassionate, clogging up the scenario’s relentlessly locking gears. If Lopez doesn’t defend herself and her child with the decivilizing blood lust of a cornered wolverine, why are we watching? Come to think of it, wouldn’t In the Bedroom be more unsettling if Sissy Spacek had dug that shallow grave and leveled that handgun?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 28, 2002