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SIFF 2013: ‘Fuck Up’ Movie Review

by Warren Cantrell on May 13, 2013

in Print Reviews,Reviews

The 2013 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) starts with an opening night gala on May 16 and runs through June 9. This year, 272 feature films and 175 shorts representing 85 countries will be featured. Follow all of Scene-Stealers’ SIFF coverage here. The following film opens May 21 at SIFF:

The mix of a snow-stained winter setting, lost money, drugs, and pitch-black comedy gives Fuck Up (Et Slags liv) a distinctly Coen brothers flavor: a comparison the movie seems proud of.

Indeed, the Norwegian film’s main character, Jack, is delightfully anti-hero, and is the kind of resilient idiot savant that would thrive in a film like Fargo or Raising Arizona.  The actor who plays him, Jon Øigarden, starred alongside Alte Antonsen in one of SIFF’s best offerings last year, another Norwegian film called King Curling, and both are again in top form in Fuck Up.

It can truly be said that it’s a good thing to have loyal friends.  They drive out to the middle of nowhere to pick you up when your timing belt snaps, bring over beer if there’s a party, and never reach for that last slice of pizza.  Hell, if they’re true pals, they’ll even break into a police station’s evidence room and steal back two and a half kilos of Colombian bam-bam you lost after hitting a goddamned moose.  Glen (Atle Antonsen) is the narrator of Fuck Up, and luckily he’s got friends just so loyal and true.

For starters, there’s Glen’s best friend, Jack: a sex fiend and speed freak that is on the verge of becoming a fully licensed ambulance driver.  The audience is introduced to Jack in a bar, where he’s having a drink with Robin (Tuva Novotny) and Rasmussen (Anders Baasmo Christiansen).  These three grew up together with Glen, who is supposed to meet all of them at the bar to (presumably) explain why he’s borrowed a hefty sum of money from each.  Yet Glen never arrives, and when Jack goes on his very first ambulance run the next day, he quickly discovers why.

Jack’s hurt-wagon is called to the scene of Glen’s car accident at the edge of the small Norwegian town where the film’s events take place.  Situated right on Norway’s side of its border with Sweden, the town of Halden is a hot-spot for smugglers, and compels the police to investigate the roadside-wreck a bit further.  This, in turn, leads to the discovery of 2.5 kilos of cocaine in Glen’s trunk, which starts a whole mess of trouble not just for Glen, but also for the friends who unknowingly lent him part of the start-up money for the smuggling venture.  As Jack, Robin, and Rasmussen scramble to figure out a way to save Glen from the scary mob syndicate pursuing their promised blow, the trio quickly learns that their asses are very much on the line as well.

Primarily a crime-caper flick, writer and first-time director Øystein Karlsen doesn’t keep this movie in just one box, and is careful to develop his characters beyond their functional role in the plot.  Although these people are all clearly changed by the events of Fuck Up, enough consideration is given to each of them to flush out precisely what it is they have gained and lost by the time the credits roll.  For example, in Jack the audience has a man that is plagued not only by the compulsions of his past, but also the compassion to fully understand how these actions hurt those around him.  Considering everything this guy is put through during the course of Fuck Up, and all Jack has to manage, it is truly impressive to see how the film develops his growth.

As a whole, it’s a very enjoyable movie, and compelling enough to keep a viewer interested in the action despite the occasionally choppy editing.  It doesn’t happen very often, yet there are a few moments during Fuck Up when one is reminded that this is indeed a freshman effort.  Although Karlsen almost nails it, the action doesn’t always flow quite as seamlessly as one might hope, something that leaves things a bit jagged around the edges from time to time.  It doesn’t seriously hamper the flow of the movie, however, and never muddles the narrative enough to warrant any serious confusion: hence one might simply chalk it up to growing pains, and leave it at that.

And while audiences have seen some version of this movie before, what with the lost drugs/cash, the vengeful mobsters, and the friends looking to make everything right: Fuck Up somehow manages to give this formulaic clap-trap a fresh voice.  As mentioned before, time is spent on all four of the main characters to give the audience a sense of investment in the plot and each person’s role in it, pushing this one out of cliché territory.  Although these aren’t especially sympathetic characters, by the end of the film the audience has gotten familiar enough with each of them that it’s hard not to root for the half-assed cocaine cowboys.

Yet another successful offering from Norway to the Seattle International Film Festival, where Fuck Up opens May 21, this one has enough personality and style to nudge it out of Minor Rock Fist Up territory and into the Solid range.  A story about friendship, loyalty, adulthood, and Scandinavian mob mischief, it’s a good time, and should be a hoot for anybody looking to see what Norway might look like through a Coen lens.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.


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