TOVE – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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Biopics are a dime a dozen these days with many often featuring the usual cliched rise- and-fall scenario. But with Tove, director Zaida Bergroth is lucky enough to focus on a uniquely alluring Finnish sketcher, painter and author best known for her Moomins, hippo-like creatures with puffy snouts that were featured in comic-strips and books. From the start, she was able to pick herself up and dust herself off whenever the chips were down. That includes the opening scenes as she and her family head back to a rubble-filled Helsinki at the end of World War II.

Bergoth also had the good luck to find a luminous look-a-like actress in Alma Poysti to portray Tove Jansson, a seductive blithe spirit who managed to renovate a barely habitable space and turn it into her home, work space and den of seduction. With little support from her father Victor (Robert Enckell), an esteemed sculptor who demeans her fantasy creatures, she makes her way through the fringes of the art world. Tove knows she is onto something and soon she finds a lover and supporter in Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney), a divorced left-wing politician who at one point asks her to marry him.

But Tove, who drinks with abandon and smokes like a chimney, can’t quite quit her main source of passion, a willowy and wealthy married female stage director Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen), who encourages her lover to turn the Moomins into a musical play. But monogamy is not Vivica’s bag and eventually Tove finds a woman companion who will stick by her to the end of her life.

By no means is this life story a downer. I enjoyed seeing Poysti donning pants a la Marlene Dietrich and her party-hearty attitude. As Tove says, “Life is a wonderful adventure. One should explore all its twists and turns.” That includes dancing whenever and wherever she wants, at times in her undies and a top hat, whether to jazzy strains of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman as well as Edith Piaf’s C’est Merveilleux.

As charming as Poysti is, I wish we learned more about how Tove came up with the Moomins initially and what they stood for. But at least Tove learns after her father dies that he was indeed proud of her accomplishments. Ever optimistic, Bergoth wisely ends with clips of the real-life Tove joyfully dancing on the sun-dappled island where she and her life-long lover Tuulikki Pietilav (Joanna Haartti) found their happy place.

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Susan Wloszczyna

Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for RogerEbert.com. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.