Although it's not truly a buddy picture, Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees found this Norwegian comedy-drama to be quite friendly.
"It needs work, but it's funny. Like Jackass—but with a heart."
This pleasant Norwegian film has a predictable plot about twentysomethings who need to grow up—and who fall afoul of reality television—but the appealing performances and sincerity make it worth watching. Even those who cringe away from foreign films will find its characters' dilemmas familiar and its story engaging. And you may even end up as a fan of Norwegian pop music, to boot.
Facts of the Case
Kristoffer (Nicolai Cleve Broch) is an amiable twentysomething guy who hasn't quite found a direction for his life yet. He and his friend Geir (Aksel Hennie) make a living putting up billboards, and Kristoffer has a pretty girlfriend named Elisabeth (Janne Formoe), but Kristoffer's main interest is in videotaping his life—especially the crazy stunts he and Geir pull. He and Geir have recently moved in with Stig Inge (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), a shy web designer whose obsessive-compulsive tendencies are an endless source of amusement to his new roommates. Kristoffer is perfectly content with this life until Elisabeth offers him a set of keys to her apartment. All of a sudden, things seem to be moving too quickly, and Kristoffer starts backing off. Nevertheless, he's surprised when Elisabeth tells him he needs to think about where his life is going—and dumps him.
Then Kristoffer gets a call from a television studio, which has come across some tapes of his video diary and wants to air them as reality programming. Kristoffer agrees, and his instant celebrity launches him into a different world. With a new direction for his life an the promise of an exciting career, he seems to have gained the maturity Elisabeth thought he lacked. But the video clips place Geir and Stig Inge in a delicate position, and Kristoffer will have to weigh his new career options against his loyalty to his friends. Moreover, with the entrance of a sexy new roommate, Henriette (Pia Tjelta), he finds that his feelings for Elisabeth may not be as clear-cut as they once were, and maturity may not be as simple as getting a real job.
To begin with, Buddy is not named for a character named Buddy. Once this realization dawns, we can recognize that the film is going to bring up questions about the nature of friendship and ask us to assess Kristoffer's status as the "buddy" of Geir and Stig Inge. As soon as Kristoffer's videos start airing, we can predict that they will put his friendships in jeopardy and that he will have to learn a lesson about where real maturity lies: in becoming a professional with aspirations for a serious career, or being loyal to and considerate of his friends. We know this kind of dilemma is coming since it's clear that when we first meet Kristoffer that he lacks maturity and needs to give some thought to direction for his life, especially if he wants to hold on to Elisabeth. She works in an ultramodern public relations firm, and her world contrasts greatly with Kristoffer and Geir's unglamorous job. Elisabeth's boss, who becomes Kristoffer's romantic rival, embodies Kristoffer's opposite: focussed, ambitious, he wears a suit and drives a snazzy car. No wonder Kristoffer is dazzled by the prospect of fame and a fabulous new career, and we can understand why he lets himself be swept along by the TV executives even when his passivity and eagerness to please put his friends' privacy in jeopardy. Thus, Kristoffer remains sympathetic even when he acts like a child or screws up on a big scale, and this is one of the film's triumphs. As Kristoffer, Nicolai Cleve Broch brings an appealing presence to the part, establishing the character as a basically nice guy who isn't very introspective and doesn't always think about the consequences of his actions—which, of course, will come back to haunt him.
The subplots about Geir and Stig Inge mirror, in different ways, Kristoffer's journey toward maturity and direction. Geir's happy-go-lucky attitude toward relationships catches up with him in the person of a former one-night stand, and he unwillingly starts to confront the pressure to take responsibility and be an adult. Aksel Hennie's handling of this development is convincing, and he's not afraid to take Geir in a direction that risks losing our sympathy. His story is more satisfying in a way than Kristoffer's, since it seems more realistically handled; there's no grand romantic gesture to cap his story, as there is the main plot. Stig Inge also gets to develop impressively, going from a source of comedy to one of pathos, as we see the toll agoraphobia has taken on his life. Unfortunately, after establishing his phobia as frighteningly intense, the film waves a wand and makes it go away once it has served its purpose in the plot, and I found that this undermined Stig Inge's struggles and offered too pat a resolution to them. Its use of agoraphobia—in addition to Stig Inge's solitary job as web designer—also seems a little too obvious as a metaphor for the isolation of life in the computer age. This is an impressive performance, though, and Anders Baasmo Christiansen effectively conveys the strength of Stig Inge's anxiety without overacting or compromising realism. It's the fault of the screenplay, rather than the actor, that the character's arc ends in an unbelievable place.
The two primary female characters are also convincingly drawn and acted. The sophisticated Elisabeth and the earthy free spirit Henriette contrast nicely with each other, yet each is a rounded character, more complex than she seems at first. Director Tyldum has a good touch with his youthful cast, evoking unforced performances and a strong sense of connection between characters, which is one of the most appealing features of the film.
Buddy will gain in appeal for American audiences, I suspect, due to its extensive use of pop songs on the soundtrack. Although these aren't by American artists, they establish mood and atmosphere in a way that reaches across the language barrier and aid the viewer greatly in staying in step with the plot and emotional content. I admit that I found this use of pop songs to sell a certain mood almost too insistent in some scenes, such as when some security guards' pursuit of Kristoffer is accompanied by a buoyant, fast-paced rock song to indicate that this is all high-spirited fun. Nevertheless, the familiarity of this technique and the instant context it offers will make the film accessible and inviting to American audiences than it might otherwise have been.
Audio quality is very fine, and the pop songs and fresh, upbeat score by Lars Lillo-Stenberg come through with great clarity and depth in the surround mix; aurally, it's quite an attractive film, with effective use of ambient sound to create an immersive experience. Dialogue occasionally drops beneath the level of the music, but since most viewers will probably be using the subtitles, as I did, that's not a crucial point. Visual quality is mostly clear, with some slightly softer and hazier sequences, and of course the sequences from Kristoffer's video diary, shot on hand-held camera, are of noticeably lower quality. The palette doesn't use many bright colors, but there is a mellow quality to the visual tone that is attractive and inviting.
Film Movement's releases always include a short film as an extra, and the one that accompanies this release, A Ninja Pays Half My Rent, directed by <<, is a standout. This dry comedy shows what it's like for one ordinary guy to end up with a trained assassin as a roommate. At less than five and a half minutes long, it's quite compact, but that works in its favor: The joke doesn't have time to grow stale. The quality of this film is so professional that one admires it for its assured artistry as much as its very funny story. Editing and cinematography show considerable polish, and the end result is a small gem.
The remaining extras consist of biographies for director << and the three male lead actors, which are brief but welcome, and an excerpt from a review of the film, printed on the case insert, which strikes me as being rather pointless. There are also trailers for other Film Movement releases.
I left Buddy with an uplifted feeling, but also some mixed emotions. The predictability of its plot is both comforting in its familiarity and disappointing in its lack of originality. Viewers should consult their feelings about film formulas in deciding whether to purchase this title, which, like other Film Movement releases, may be impossible to locate as a rental. Overall it's an engaging, warm-hearted, and likable film, and in an agreeably low key as opposed to its often overblown American brethren, but it didn't stand out to me sufficiently to declare it a must-see. However, for viewers who, like Kristoffer, are still in their twenties and feel a bit adrift as they contemplate their future life, this film may really hit home.
The court gives in to the charm of the young cast and declares the defendant not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
• A Ninja Pays Half My Rent Short Film (2002)
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