BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE – Review by Carol Cling

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A place for everything and everything in its place.

That tidy cliche may make sense in a good-housekeeping context. But it doesn’t quite work as a philosophy of life — which the stoic title character discovers in the genial, if undeniably formulaic, Britt-Marie Was Here.

Based on a novel by best-selling A Man Called Ove author Fredrik Backman, Britt-Marie focuses on another hidebound character confronted by life’s unexpected slings and arrows.

Ove’s title character is a widower. By contrast, Britt-Marie (Pernilla August, who’s played everyone from Shmi Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels to Ingmar Bergman’s mother in The Best Intentions) is very much married — and has been for 40 of her 63 years.

During that long stretch, she’s become a list-making domestic automaton, devoting herself to maintaining a comfortable existence for her husband (Peter Haber).

Alas, he’s hardly as devoted as Britt-Marie. And when that awful truth inevitably surfaces, Britt-Marie goes into customary clean-up-the-mess mode.

Determined to find a new place in life, our heroine accepts the first and only job she’s offered: running a dilapidated youth center in a hardscrabble town.

Her first duty, as she sees it, is to conquer the center’s chaotic clutter. But the raucous bunch of kids the center serves — focused on practicing for an upcoming soccer match against a formidable big-city rival — keeps getting in the way.

So do, among others, her crabby landlady (Malin Levanon) and a charming local cop, the instantly smitten Sven (Anders Mossling).

To say nothing of Britt-Marie’s own fears, regrets and memories — all of which she’s done her best to bury throughout her previously well-ordered life.

Speaking of well-ordered, Britt-Marie Was Here follows an utterly predictable path.

But, in this case at least, familiarity breeds more contentment than contempt, thanks to the movie’s heartwarming message and heartfelt performances.

Maintaining a low-key yet keen-eyed approach, director Tuva Novotny explores — but doesn’t exploit — the movie’s fish-out-of-water humor.

The movie’s portrait of a contemporary, multi-cultural Sweden adds additional interest — exemplified by the sensitive performances of Lancelot Ncube and Stella Oyoko Bengtsson as a resilient sibling duo.

Ultimately, however, it’s Pernilla August’s dry, wry and unexpectedly poignant title-role portrayal that keeps Britt-Marie Was Here from sinking into the swamp of sticky sentiment that’s always lurking beneath its amiable surface.

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Carol Cling

Carol Cling

Carol Cling served as the Las Vegas Review-Journal's film critic for more than 30 years, reviewing movies and covering movie and TV production in Las Vegas, from Casino to CSI. An honors graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, she also has studied film at the American Film Institute and the BBC