The Weightless Humor of ‘Heavy Trip’ Rocks

by Warren Cantrell on October 5, 2018

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up]

An absurdist love-letter to the Scandinavian metal scene, Heavy Trip is just charming and earnest enough to elevate the whole effort past its flaws. A little one-dimensional, to be sure, and with more than a few plot twists that burden an already precarious tonal balancing act, the film still manages to be enchanting and quirky enough to make it all worthwhile.

Heavy Trip is primarily the story of Turo (Johannes Holopainen), a thoughtful 20-something vocalist for a four-piece metal band in a very small town in Finland. The group has been together for over a decade and is very talented, yet they are reluctant to book any gigs without first writing their own music. And while the townsfolk and their families all seem disdainful of the group’s long-haired, black-clad enthusiasm, the sudden promise of a real show in Norway changes everything for Turo and the guys.

Overnight, the boys go from freaks to heroes, and must deal with troublesome things like coming up with a suitable band name, taking a band photo, and getting some practice gigs lined up. Turo’s burgeoning relationship with a local florist named Miia (Minka Kuunstonen), along with a budding rivalry with the town’s sleazy lounge singer, Jouni (Ville Tiihonen), serve as sub-plots to the overall narrative arc bending towards the big Norway show. How Turo and his band react to their new elevated status within their isolated Finnish community, and how that community reacts to them, is the foundation upon which most of the movie’s comedy is built.

Co-directors Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren wisely keep the overall tone light, and give their picture a skewed real-world base of reality similar to Super Troopers or even The Blues Brothers. This latter comparison seems not just apt but entirely deliberate, too, for at one point, when questioned by the police on their way to a gig, one of Turo’s bandmates states that they are, “on a mission from Satan.” Knowing winks to these pop culture touchstones allows Heavy Trip to have its metal cake and to eat it too, for these characters are able to simultaneously play this all straight while the film revels in the absurdity.

This also lets Heavy Trip fully commit to its characters in a way that allows each to exist as fully-formed, and not just as an accessory to the narrative. Each of Turo’s three bandmates represents a serious component of the group’s overall success, from the raw playing ability of their guitarist, Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio), to the encyclopedic music knowledge of bassist Pasi (Max Ovaska), and the undying optimism and encouragement of drummer Jynkky (Antti Heikkinen). Each is given a moment to establish themselves as a unique, vital component of not just the band, but the narrative as a whole, and the movie works because of this.

All of this wouldn’t come off if Heavy Trip was anything less than really goddamned funny, though, and not just in a way that reaches for the cheap laughs. Bucking the stereotype of metal-heads as brutish, angry tough guys, Turo and his bandmates are all decidedly polite, shy, sensitive gentlemen. They don’t fight back when called names, and even though their stated sound is “Symphonic post-apocalyptic reindeer-grinding Christ-abusing extreme war-pagan Fennoscandic metal,” Turo and the guys couldn’t be nicer. This juxtaposition of men who produce music that sounds like the soundtrack to the 5th ring of hell versus their positioning as big-hearted dorks is fertile ground for comedy that Heavy Trip harvests from time and again.

Still, the film isn’t without a few problems, most of which sprout from a script that doesn’t seem to know how to transition from its second to third act. As one deus ex machina development follows another during the film’s last half hour, the comedy goes from absurdist to slapstick, owing largely to the fact that the situations Turo and his mates find themselves in just keep getting more and more ridiculous. And while the film never loses sight of its central theme of taking chances and believing in one’s self, the weight of the script’s contrivances threatens to topple the effort on more than a couple occasions.

Considering this is the feature film debut of Laatio and Vidgren, it could have been a hell of a lot worse, though. Heavy Trip benefits from brisk pacing, a crisp look, solid performances, well-drawn characters, and a soundtrack that’s nothing less than spectacular. This is enough to spackle over the holes left behind in this Swiss-Cheese script and imbues it with a charm that’s hard to resist. Opening in limited release this week against the blockbuster-hunting Venom, and awards-hungry A Star Is Born, this Finnish metal fairytale is the symphonic post-apocalyptic reindeer-grinding Christ-abusing extreme war-pagan Fennoscandic metal film the world has been waiting for.

“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 his own site, 10rant.com. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing. Mr. Cantrell is happily unmarried, and without any children, pets, or plants.

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