For Laika, obviously.
It’s the late 50’s in Sweden and well, 12 year-old Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) isn’t having the best time of his life. He and his brother are constantly fighting, his mother is slowly, but most surely dying of a terminal disease, and it seems like no one really cares if he’s around, except for his lovely little dog that accompanies just about everywhere he goes. Eventually, after much tension and turmoil, Ingemar’s mom sends him and his brother away; the later to the grand-parents, the former, to the aunt and uncle. And while Ingemar is against leaving his mother, brother and most importantly, dog, he ends up settling in quite nice with his aunt and uncle; they respect as him as a little kid, let him have a certain amount of freedom, and also allow him to have fun, just as a 12-year-old his age should be doing. But after awhile, Ingemar starts to grow more and more attached to the people living around him and finds himself happy to be with them, but also sad about his mom, his brother, and like I said before, his dog, who he thinks is still alive, well, and waiting for him back home in some lovely, spacious kennel, when in reality, that’s probably not at all near the truth. Poor Ingemar’s going to have to grow up some time soon and unfortunately, it’s going to hurt pretty hard.
It’s interesting to watch My Life as a Dog and compare it to the other flicks that director/co-writer Lasse Hallström would approach – while mostly all of his films following are safe, sometimes conventional, but always syrupy, saccharine pieces of melodrama that aren’t always perfect, My Life as a Dog is anything but. If anything, it’s a pretty down-to-Earth, honest and raw look at growing up, coming-of-age, and realizing that, yeah, death sucks, but you know what’s worse than death? Not realizing it’s a fact of life and moving on from it.
Okay, maybe not that cynical, but you get my drift. What I’m trying to get across is that the movie’s interesting to look at, many of these years later, if especially because Hallström himself seemed to “sell-out”, so to speak, and forget about his indie, artistic-ambitions. While his movies would still continue to garner praise from audiences, critics, and major award nominations (like Best Picture for, of all things, Chocolat), My Life as a Dog still hangs around as one of his best, if only because it showed us where he got his start and gave us all some hope, for some amount of time.
And yeah, it’s worthy of all this praise, too, because My Life as a Dog is a smart movie that doesn’t necessarily break down any barriers for the coming-of-age genre, but it doesn’t necessarily make it seem conventional, either.
The best element behind My Life as a Dog that sets it aside from the other crowded bunch of familiar movies is that while it’s nostalgic on looking back at a very precious time in a kid’s life, it is no way, a kids movie. It’s interesting, too, because Ingemar is the kind of kid character you’d expect the Disney-crowd to automatically reach out towards, however, a lot of what he deals with, sees, and has to experience, is pretty damn adult-like, to where it feels like a movie kids themselves probably should see, but at the same time, probably won’t.
Which is to say that the movie doesn’t hold any certain amount of b.s. when it comes to growing up and realizing how much of a pain that can be, when you’re in as a terrible situation as little Ingemar is in here. The movie doesn’t hold back and for that, it’s refreshing – it’s sweet and nice in the right ways, but never reaches over to being sentimental. It’s the kind of movie that any adult could get a little something out of, if only because it reminds them of the time they were growing up, with all the same feelings felt.
It may be a little embarrassing, but hey, the truth itself can sometimes be awfully so.
But it’s nice that the movie does try and make Ingemar more than just our mannequin for whom we express our own feelings, thoughts and memories through – there’s something to him that makes him still feel like a real, complex kid, just learning how to develop and grow in a crazy, sometimes cruel world. While it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t seem like the rest of his career has turned out to be much, Anton Glanzelius still puts in a very good performance here, even so at such a young age. He feels like a kid in that he isn’t precocious, or way too big for his own britches – he’s a kid who thinks he knows a lot about the world, but really doesn’t, and instead, much more wants to spend time imagining things about the outside world around him, or what’s going on up there in space. And yes, these are all thoughts we hear from him, but believe it or not, they all work and are pretty interesting, always feeling as if they are coming from a sweet, delicate 12-year-old who knows a little thing or two.
You know, like we all thought we were at 12 years old.
Come on, admit it.
Consensus: Without pulling any silly punches, My Life as a Dog works as a smart, yet sweet and tender piece of coming-of-age drama that showed us the promise that Hallström and unfortunately, didn’t do much with.
8 / 10