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.