Starring: Mikko Kauppila, Valtteri Lehtinen, Sanna Majuri, Sami Hahtala, Amanda Virolainen
Director: Nils-Erik Ekbrom
How often do you watch a film that won Oscars and think that if it wasn’t for an actor/actress’ performance, the film would never have achieved the acclaim it has? Rarely does an independent movie strike that same chord, but in the Finnish teenage romance Screwed, the whole film is carried by a remarkable young actor whose charismatic screen presence makes for a superbly likeable protagonist in what is otherwise a relatively standard coming-of-age tale.
Miku (Kauppila) is seventeen years old and struggling with his identity. Hosting a wild house party while his parents are away, he is dragged to a countryside holiday park after his parents (Majuri & Hahtala) return home early to find their home trashed. Restless, he welcomes the distraction of a budding friendship with his young neighbour Elias (Lehtinen), who is both affable and charming and whom Miku begins to fall head over heels in love with. But when Elias’ drug-addicted sister (Virolainen) arrives unexpectedly, cracks begin to appear in his charismatic veneer and Miku begins to see beneath the tip of Elias’ iceberg.
Valtteri Lehtinen makes for a compelling lead as Elias and it makes perfect sense as to why the hesitant Miku would find validation of his sexuality within days of meeting him. With intense and expressive eyes that captivate both the camera and Miku, we see a confident young man whose self-assuredness recoils only when dealing with his Achilles’ hell; his family. Then, he retreats to a safe distance as he physically withdraws, closing his face and body to Miku. So from someone who seemed frank and uncomplicated, suddenly a quiet enigma arises. Add to that the comfortable balance he has found between his masculine headstrong façade and his natural but subtle camp mannerisms and this is a very twenty-first century depiction of a young man secure, at least, in his sexuality.
The relationship that ensues between the two boys makes for engaging viewing, but it is the two boys’ back-stories that make for the most interesting viewing. Elias’ sister’s addiction and his parents’ messy divorce are the demons snapping at his heels, while Miku’s family are bubbling with tension over his mother not being able to join the dots. Finding gay porn in the family computer’s browser history, instead of suspecting her son’s sexuality, she casts the suspicion on her husband, whose body-building she sees as a sign of his repressed sexuality. But when Elias’ finally does come out to his family, it makes for a truly hilarious reaction from his confused mother.
Unfortunately, there are moments when the filmic quality of Screwed fluctuates. At times there are long luxurious shots of the two boys in the Finnish countryside that make for beautiful viewing, but at others there are moments when the camera lingers too long or the editing isn’t as slick as it could be. There are some issues with lighting too, with some scenes looking like Dogme 95, while others look more like a catalogue shoot for summer-wear.
However, at times the film’s amateurish quality actually seems to improve it. The opening scenes, especially the wild party, appear like a YouTube-esque fly-on-wall montage crossed with an episode of Skins. Being young in Finland suddenly looks fun, modern and fresh. In fact, if there’s one thing Screwed succeeds with more than most is capturing what it’s actually like to be a young person in the twenty-first century. This is not a film in which a director looks back on his arrival in adulthood with rose-tinted nostalgia; this is the awkward reality of a teenager trying to find the balance between his youthful emancipation and still living under the rules of his family.
European LGBT youth Dramas are ten a penny nowadays, but if you see only one this year, I would suggest watching this one. Although it’s only March, so let’s not limit ourselves just yet... Though genuinely, I have no idea why this film's title is more like a porno than a quality indie romance.