With Scandinavian dramas all the rage on TV, it’s perhaps surprising that they haven’t enjoyed the same or even similar success at the box office. Although slightly lighter in tone, The Grump — like previous festival fare Trollhunter, Headhunters and Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal — is just as devilishly dark in spirit.
Adapted from Tuomas Kyrö’s novel of the same name, Dome Karukoski’s latest confidently introduces its protagonist to international audiences, stressing the archetypal nature of the character while simultaneously constituting a personal tribute to the director’s late father.
Opening with a sweeping shot of The Grump’s estate, the camera circling a lonely looking man as he ploughs a frozen field by hand, Karukoski’s opening sequence is notably out of time. It’s not clear how long he’s been farming that land, living in that house, or visiting his non-responsive wife in her care home, only that he has no intention of stopping any time soon. That is, at least, until an accident in his cellar brings him into conflict with his son.
The Grump is a great character, immediately recogniseable and tremendously out of touch — sometimes simultaneously ignorant and inspired — but it’s not until he moves in with his son’s wife that he truly comes to life. Perankoski is the perfect foil for Litja, and together they have a volatile chemistry that is endlessly watchable.
While always engaging and often entertaining, however, The Grump is a little bit too timeless for its own good. Following their initial confrontation, in which he spills coffee all over her new trousers at the outset of a very important day, the film falls into a pattern that soon begins to repeat itself. It’s obvious that one or the other will have to concede in the end, and tradition dictates that it’ll be The Grump to submit first, but by prolonging the inevitable Karukosi begins to test the potential of their antagonism as well as the patience of his audience. Rather than resolve the conflict straight after the final showdown between the The Grump and daughter-in-law, the film belatedly decides to remove Perankoski from the action and instead focus on The Grump’s relationship with his son.
It’s clearly important to the director that they reconcile their differences, but Forss has played such a small part in the story thus far that — unfortunately — these scenes feel slightly less indispensable to his audience.
Overall, however, the film remains a joy to watch — it’s handsomely shot, wittily written and wryly performed. While its namesake might live to ruin days, The Grump itself is much more likely to make them.