Release date: 23rd August 2010
Running time: 103 mins
Director: Ella Lemhagen
A country notable for its tolerance of homosexuality, gay adoption has been legal in Sweden since 2002. Compared to the UK, where same-sex adoption was legalised in 2005, and Scotland, where the bill only passed in 2009, a film that explores the issue from a more established perspective deserves attention. Originally a play by Michael Druker, the film received a warm reception at LA’s Outfest in 2009. Following the media interest and Channel 4’s recent documentary about gay millionaires Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow, who have three children through IVF and surrogacy, this is a timely release.
Göran and Sven Skoogh are a loving couple who have just moved into a neighbourhood so perfect it could have been designed by Ikea. Unfortunately, some of the residents also have readymade attitudes towards homosexuality. The couple do not allow this to faze them – they want a child to cement their relationship, and so the arduous process of adoption begins.
Göran is a GP and the soft-featured, nurturing type who makes the local housewives lament his sexual orientation. Meanwhile, Sven is a hard-headed, hard-drinking businessman with a Dolly Parton poster and a daughter from a previous marriage. When there is a clerical error and the couple are given responsibility for 15-year-old Patrik, a homophobic delinquent, their opposite approaches to people and parenting have mixed results from disastrous to heart-warming…
Patrick, Age 1.5 is as much a critique of attitudes towards same-sex adoption as it is of bureaucracy in Sweden – in fact, the latter is what provides some of the strongest punch lines of the film. Sven’s fury at the error of Social Services is compounded by a parking ticket; he reaches boiling point when the priggish police receptionist seems more interested in reminding him to stay outside the carefully measured perimeter around his bulletproof glass.
The same can be said for the head social worker when Göran decides he does want to adopt Patrik and not hold out for a baby. He replies, “You think we’re just giving out children?” when, due to their own incompetence and limited opening hours, the couple have been looking after Patrik for the best part of a week. Despite the liberal subject material, however, there is still room for a little good old-fashioned xenophobia – if they cannot have a Swedish child, they would happily adopt from any country, although “not from Denmark,” remarks Sven.
Badly behaved and misunderstood, Patrik may look typically Swedish with his Nordic looks, but his attitude is far from tolerant. He is quick to point out, with much bravado, that he once attacked a homosexual, and that he thinks Sven and Göran are paedophiles. Göran, someone apt to make the best of things, teaches Patrik how to say paedophile properly and discovers his unlikely talent for gardening. A mutual respect quickly grows between the two, threatening his relationship with Sven, who continues to behave with a fear of the unknown verging on the Neanderthal.
Ljungman commendably plays the part of an abrasive and overlooked teenager, a role that is by no means easy and often performed very poorly, but it is Gustaf Skarsgård as the winning Göran who carries the film. Many of the most poignant scenes that deal with attitudes towards homosexuality are tackled by him. For instance, his honest conversation with an inquisitive boy he is meant to be immunising is spoilt when the boy’s father stampedes in, furious that his son is being treated by a gay doctor. Or when one of his neighbours, who is openly cheating on his wife with a younger woman, remarks on how convenient it would be for Göran to have someone like Patrik around.
Patrik, Age 1.5 ably confronts the controversial subject of same-sex adoption. The film does not shy away from some of the more unpleasant assumptions held against the gay community, undermines preconceptions and underlines some of society’s double standards. This may be a tall order, but Patrik, Age 1.5 succeeds and yet remains a gentle, thoughtful and, at times, provocative comedy. What better way to celebrate the legalisation of same-sex adoption in Argentina?
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