Henrik (Henrik Rafaelson) likes to play pretend. He likes to yell made-up stories in the grocery store (loudly and often of the shockingly impolite variety) and to engage people in conversations about things that never happened and to jump out from behind things to scare people. Fortunately for Henrik, his girlfriend Tone (Janne Heltberg) likes to play pretend with him. At least, until real life becomes a lot more interesting and full than all those pretend games.
The couple is already in a state of upheaval when Martin Lund’s The Almost Man opens, though it seems to be a mostly cheery one (at least, it’s one that includes dancing to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” in the middle of the day, which seems like a solid signal that things are peppy). Henrik and Tone have recently moved (they’re still unpacking boxes) and Henrik is about to start a new job, but the real news is that the tiny, flame-haired Tone is pregnant with their first child. She seems remarkably nonplussed by the news – happy, but not unhinged – while Henrik, our “almost man,” is slowly starting to break down under the pressure of impending adulthood, despite the fact that he really should have grown up quite a long time ago.
It’s easy to picture The Almost Man getting an Americanized remake – if you squint, Rafaelson makes for a fair Norwegian Jason Segel (he even routinely gets naked throughout the film), and the tone of the domestic dramedy seems destined to establish Lund as some kind of European Judd Apatow. The film finds its own unique footing, however, when it comes to Tone. Unlike her American parallels, Tone isn’t a nag, constantly pushing and prodding Henrik. She’s just as silly and fun as he is, and the pair exhibits an amusing and comfortable chemistry throughout the film. Tone is still an adult, though, because somebody has to be, especially as Henrik’s ability to behave like a grown man diminishes during the film’s slim 75-minute runtime. (Heltberg is, quite notably, very good in the film, equally adept at lightness and heartbreak, often in the same scene.)
Henrik isn’t very comfortable in new social situations, which makes the changes in his life that much harder. A first day at work goes off weirdly when his team attends a seminar that he doesn’t seem to be registered for, and Tone seems to be the only one working to make their new home feel like it belongs to them. He’s much happier playing racquetball with his immature long-time friends or skipping out on carefully planned Tone events to get wasted with them at their own events – big, loud, boozy affairs that we can only guess are the kind of shindigs they’ve thrown for the past two decades or so. Change isn’t Henrik’s favorite thing, but as the world grows up around him, staying in the same place and doing the same thing starts looking less like not evolving and more like actually devolving. The trick of Rafaelson’s performance is to still keep the shaggy Henrik feeling lovable and relatable even when he’s doing terrible, stupid things – a feat that the actor does with ease.
Things reach an impasse when Henrik’s dueling lives intersect in an unexpected way – the wannabe grown-up colliding with the kid who never evolved past age eighteen. Said intersection comes care of coincidence and happenstance – the believable kind, not the big cinematic kind – with effects that steadily spiral outward over the film’s second half. Let’s put it this way: Henrik’s new job probably isn’t going to work out. But can his personal life be salvaged?
The film’s general “oops, I don’t know how to be a grown up” narrative and specific focus on a man who is not ready to be a father (or, at least, not ready for anything that entails) is well-tread territory when it comes to big screen comedies (think Nine Months, Delivery Man, Father of Bride Part II), but The Almost Man wisely keeps things grounded enough to feel special. Henrik remains consistently engaging, even when he’s doing things that are objectively bad and poorly conceived (“objectively bad”? really? well, what else would you call a drunk decision to piss in someone else’s car in their child’s storybook? pretty bad, right?), things that hurt both him and Tone and seem to spell trouble for their unborn child.
The Almost Man occasionally (and awkwardly) dips its toes into darker waters, and a more serious film would likely have to explore the deeper implications of some of Henrik’s worst behaviors, but the film stays mostly light and entertaining. A zippy runtime and stellar performances keep it moving right along, and the end result is a feeling and funny film that makes a cookie cutter situation read as very sweet indeed.
The Upside: Solid performances from both Rafaelson and Heltberg, a tight narrative, zippy soundtrack, amusingly honest.
The Downside: The film’s supporting characters are vaguely sketched out, awkward tips into dark territory.
On the Side: The film was a minor hit on the festival circuit – it was nominated for five different awards at such very different fests as the Hamptons International Film Festival and the Sao Paulo International Film Festival. It won two awards at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, including one for Lund and one for Rafaelson.