Dodgeball (2004). Blades Of Glory (2007). Semi-Pro (2008). Sports comedies have been doing pretty big business in Hollywood over the past decade, due in no small part to the presence of Frat Pack stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Largely revolving around the underdog/slacker-done-good plot arc, these conventional comedies have scored with audiences by portraying their sports with a blend of broad slapstick and in-jokes, and the same formula applies to Norway’s Curling King, an efficient little comedy which is too predicable to become the international show-stopper it’s hoping for. Norwegian cinema has definitely secured an audience in the UK this year, and its presence at the festival (be sure to check out Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters) is encouraging, but sadly this isn’t a release I can get behind.
The story revolves around a middle-aged curling team who fall apart when their leader, Truls Paulsen (Atle Antonsen), is diagnosed with OCD and banned from the sport. Heavily medicated and under surveillance from his trophy wife Sigrid (Linn Skåber), Truls soon decides to come back to curling when his mentor Gordon falls ill. He requires a life-saving operation, but it’s expensive, and coincidentally the cash prize from the curling championship will meet his medical bills. The rest of the plot could be (and probably was) mapped out on a handkerchief, and all your primary presumptions are probably correct (breakups, setbacks, reunions etc).
An example of Curling King‘s predictability. Early in the film it is revealed that one character’s estranged father is a Rod Stewart impersonator. It’s only a matter of time before we’re treated to the hi-larious sight of a monotone codger in a tiger-skin jacket giving his half-arsed rendition of ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?‘ My audience howled with laughter, but I can’t imagine why. Even worse is my suspicion that, had an American film pulled that gag, we’d all be rolling our eyes and calling it predictable. Well guess what? It’s no different here. Same goes for a boring dance-off sequence to MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This‘, which is sure to get a round-of-applause. It was funnier when Little Miss Sunshine (2006) did it.
In all honesty I wasn’t really prepared for the sort of film Curling King was when I walked into the press screening. Despite the festival program using terms such as “pastel-bright comedy” and “growing old disgracefully” I was expecting something more along the lines of Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit (2007), a dry Egyptian comedy about a police band lost in translation. The broad, knockabout stylings of Curling King actually have more in common with those blockbusting Frat Pack outings, abandoning subtlety at the calling of a good chubby-chaser joke. That said, Endresen’s film isn’t without charm, and that’s largely down to some terrifically offbeat performances…
Each member of the curling team is undergoing some kind of midlife crisis (the funniest, involving a pillow and a milk truck, gets an unsatisfying payoff), and their concerns are all somewhat relatable. Beneath the vibrant colour scheme and broad sight gags (plentiful pelvic thrusting from Paulsen’s arch nemesis) there’s actually an affectingly deadpan sadness, which the actors exploit well. They don’t entirely gel as a team, and it’s annoying that the plot becomes so centralized on Paulsen that it forgets about his mates during the middle third, but the brisk pace means that it never becomes too much of a problem. Antonsen’s comic timing is particularly spot-on, but the setups just aren’t good enough to support him.
It’s very hard to get 600 words out of Curling King. I’ve managed, but this review has been stretched to its limits. At times it was like getting blood from a stone. In that sense I have something in common with the film’s screenwriters; finding enough jokes in the premise of Curling King to sustain a 75-minute feature is a task I wouldn’t have envied them…
Director: Ole Endresen
Writers: Ole Endresen, Atle Antonsen
Stars: Atle Antonsen, Linn Skåber, Jan Sælid, Jon Øigarden
Runtime: 75 minutes
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