Jens Lien's pitch-black, bone-dry comedy The Bothersome Man combines a fairly well-worn pastiche of several "individual vs. utopia" stories with some deadpan Northern European comedy of the Aki Kaurismäki/Roy Andersson variety, all topped with a pinch of Groundhog Day. The film opens with slack-faced depressive Trond Fausa Aurvaag stepping in front of a subway train and blacking out. When he opens his eyes, he's on a bus, heading through blank terrain toward a spotless city, where he's given a place to stay and a cushy job at an accounting firm. He quickly meets a woman and moves into her swank house, where they have frequent sex. When he gets bored with her, he starts having an affair with another woman, and when he tells his girlfriend he's moving out, she asks if he's going to leave before their dinner party on Saturday, because that would be unpleasant.
The Bothersome Man eventually becomes about Aurvaag trying to figure out whether he can escape, but when he starts pushing against the bureaucracy of limbo, the movie falls into a familiar rut. The story ends poignantly, and it's paced and plotted well throughout, but it veers too far into fantasyland, and loses some of the plausible absurdity that makes the first hour so funny and relatable. Because ultimately, Aurvaag's situation isn't that strange. Yes, he's living in a city where food has no taste, alcohol won't get him drunk, and sex is passionless. But anyone who's ever come home from a boring job to a plate full of bland chicken cooked by an indifferent romantic partner should identify with The Bothersome Man—especially if they've ever tried to cover their general feeling of disappointment by shopping.
Lien's conceptual masterstroke is to make Aurvaag's not-quite-heaven-not-quite-hell a consumer wonderland, where nearly everyone can afford to buy whatever they want. But because this is a world completely devoid of children—or any long-term emotional attachments—everyone buys only for themselves. They obsessively redecorate their homes, convinced that the right color combination will make up for the fact they haven't smelled fresh bread in years. Until The Bothersome Man starts getting really far out, it feels more like a slice of life than a nightmarish vision of purgatory.