Leave it to Sweden to produce the best teen film of the summer. Lukas Moodysson’s tender film about young love is so realistically and deftly handled that the dismal spate of recent Hollywood teen flicks pale miserably by comparison. This one’s a gem—a warm, intelligent and sensitive film that takes a sweet, but completely fresh look at falling in love and growing up.
Moodysson captures all the angst, insecurity, longing, loneliness, heartache and exhilaration of adolescent love without resorting to the sort of sentimentality or crassness that mark so many failures in the overdone genre. That this is the love story of two young girls makes no difference. First love is first love, and it’s charming regardless of who is doing the loving.
Shot on 16mm film with a hand-held camera, Show Me Love is an incredibly accurate portrayal of teen life that has been a huge hit in Sweden and across Europe. The two enormously talented and appealing young actresses make for especially sympathetic and authentic characters. Agnes (Rebecca Liljeberg) is a 16-year-old misfit. Two years after her family moves to the small, dead-end town of Amal, she still has no friends—though she has developed a crush that she records in her computer diary. “I want Elin to love me.”
Elin (Alexandra Dahlstrom) is the slightly wild party girl who has an undeserved reputation with the boys—she is still a virgin. She’s completely bored with her life in Amal, where nothing ever happens and things are out of style before they even arrive. She dreams of someday escaping to become a model, a film star or Miss Sweden. In the meantime, she seeks refuge in alcohol, drugs and meaningless parties. She’s as lonely, dissatisfied and prone to petulance as Agnes.
On Agnes’ birthday, her mother wants to throw her a party with a roast beef dinner, forgetting that her daughter is a vegetarian and has no friends to invite. At the coaxing of her kindly father, however, Agnes relents and delivers invitations to some of her classmates. When no one arrives but a girl in a wheelchair, the bitterly disappointed Agnes cruelly dismisses her and then flees to her room in tears. No one but a “poor, palsied cripple” will have anything to do with her, she cries, because she is ugly, repulsive and strange.
Meanwhile, out of boredom Elin and her bickering sister decide to give Agnes’ birthday party a try. Amused to find they’re the only guests, they take refuge with a bottle of wine in Agnes’ room, deciding to at least get drunk before they leave. Behind the locked bedroom door, the sisters are laughing at the rumors they’ve heard purporting Agnes is a lesbian. Elin says she understands, of course, because “boys are so gross.” That prompts a dare: Elin’s sister challenges her to kiss Agnes in exchange for 20 crowns.
A little drunk, Elin defiantly unlocks the door and kisses a shocked Agnes. Joke complete, the two giggling sisters run off to another party, leaving poor Agnes to suffer their humiliation. Even worse, at the next party Elin’s sister blabs to their friends about the dare. One of the other girls calls Agnes to tell her she wants to “get it on,” then hangs up to have a laugh with her friends.
But Elin feels a bit remorseful over the joke. Sick of the party and of a young boy named Johan who won’t leave her alone, she leaves the party to apologize to Agnes, soon discovering they have more in common than she thought. Determined to break free of the constraints of their small town, the two girls try hitchhiking to Stockholm. When the headlights of a passing car illuminate their faces, they look at each other awkwardly, then fall into a sweet kiss you can almost taste. Elin has unwittingly opened a door that will eventually “show her love.”
The course of love, however—particularly homosexual love—is never smooth or simple. There are all those classmates who think Agnes is a head case; the concerned but clueless parents who wish their daughter had a few friends; the friends precluding the popular though unconventional Elin from taking Agnes seriously, let alone liking her; and Elin’s sister, who can clearly see that Elin is falling in love, but mistakenly assumes it’s with Johan. Then there’s Elin herself, who, confused by her own feelings, pretends it is Johan who has won her heart. How can she be falling in love with a girl?
Show Me Love has a universal appeal that transcends gender or age. Anyone who has ever felt like a misfit, who has felt the stirrings of longing and self-doubt, who has ever fallen in love or followed their hearts will easily relate to this upbeat, down-to-earth charmer that will make you smile and fill you with hope. Love is love in all its bittersweet glory.
Show Me Love (NR) HHH 1/2 Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson. Starring Alexandra Dahlstrom and Rebecca Liljeberg. In Swedish with subtitles. u
Editor’s note: Show Me Love’s run at the Tower Theater ends tonight, Aug. 3.