Very few of the foreign-language films that get released in the U.S. every year are comedies, and even fewer are comedies that were record-breaking hits in their country of origin. To some extent, that’s a matter of humor not surviving translation, and can work both ways; some big Hollywood comedies, like the Jump Street films, have been a bust overseas. But America has also never accepted dubbing, and the audience for subtitled movies is small and disproportionately eggheaded, so the foreign equivalents of something like The Hangover or Bridesmaids rarely make it to the arthouses.
Every once in a while, though, one will sneak through. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared—which gets to keep its cumbersome title, because it’s not opening on 3,000 screens—is the third-highest-grossing Swedish film of all time, trailing only the original version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and its first sequel. It’s also Sweden’s answer to Forrest Gump, which perhaps made it seem more universally appealing. Its centenarian hero is Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson), who does indeed clamber out of his window at the nursing home on his 100th birthday, mostly out of boredom. Half of the film concerns Allan’s present-tense adventures, which involve accidentally getting hold of a suitcase full of cash and being pursued by a biker gang. The other half intermittently flashes back to recount Allan’s life story, a Gump-esque odyssey that sees his passion for explosives attract the attention of everyone from Joseph Stalin to Robert Oppenheimer. (Guess who was really responsible for the atomic bomb?)
Reportedly the country’s most popular comedian—he’s the Swedish voice of Mike Wazowski in Monsters, Inc. and of Sid in the Ice Age films—Gustafsson is precisely half Allan’s age, though the makeup team does a credible job of making him look younger in some of the flashback scenes and much older (if not quite 100) in the present day. The role doesn’t really give him a chance to do much more than act befuddled, but most of the comedy is predicated on the character’s complete indifference to the insanity going on around him, which includes multiple gruesome deaths (including one dude who has an elephant sit down on his head). That’s far preferable to the fallacy of the profane granny, which is the standard means of trying to make old people funny. Allan also collects a group of friends along the way, including an amusingly nerdy perpetual grad student (David Wiberg) who’s one credit shy of being everything from a veterinarian to a psychologist. Everything that takes place today is pleasantly goofy.
Much less successful is the Gump-esque flashback material, even though that appears to have been the primary selling point for both the movie’s release at home and for the equally popular novel, written by Jonas Jonasson, from which it was faithfully adapted. Allan’s encounters with Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, Generalísimo Francisco Franco (still dead), and various others are assumed to be hilarious for their own sake; once the Manhattan Project is mentioned (by name, by a construction worker, while it’s ongoing, uh-huh, yeah, common knowledge at the time), the actual scenes of Allan working on it are superfluous, because the whole joke is just, “Ha ha he loves blowing things up, now he can do it real good.” Even in these sequences, though, the movie occasionally strikes pay dirt, as with a bit in which Allan befriends Herbert Einstein, Albert’s idiot brother, in a Soviet Gulag and spends months trying to explain an escape plan to him. The 100-Year-Old Man surely won’t conquer the U.S. box office, but it’s a nice change of pace to see a foreign film that isn’t deadly serious. We could use more subtitled belly laughs.