‘Britt-Marie Was Here’ is slow, poignant journey of self-discovery

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

Unless they’re being played by Meryl Streep or George Clooney, people over the age of 50 are usually not the main characters of a film. When they are, the film usually revolves around some sort of plot intrinsically tied to their age (see: “Book Club”) or about imparting their vast years of wisdom on to the younger generation (see “The Intern.”) Revolving around a woman trying to find herself after 40 years of marriage, Swedish film “Britt-Marie Was Here” is, in some ways, no different — but the film’s close connection to its main character, however, does set it apart.

Adapted from a novel written by Swedish author Fredrik Bachman, the man behind the bestselling “A Man Called Ove” (which Tom Hanks is currently developing into an American feature film), “Britt-Marie Was Here” follows the 63-year-old titular character as she leaves her cheating husband and becomes a youth counselor and soccer coach in a small Swedish town. Like a Scandinavian version of  “Eat, Pray, Love” or “Under the Tuscan Sun” — or really any film about a woman having a midlife crisis — as Britt-Marie builds relationships with the townspeople, she rediscovers herself and finds new purpose in life.

If you are looking for sweeping romantic shots of European towns akin to Julia Roberts’ or Diane Lane’s movies, this is not the film for you. Fusing the “woman trapped in her life” trope with the “new coach inspires ragtag team” trope, “Britt-Marie Was Here” is a slow burn that is less of an homage to gorgeous European scenes and more an elongated character study of Britt-Marie. For example, there is one great micro-characterization of her as a very tidy woman, which seems like a superficial character trait until the end — when we learn that her Marie Kondo-esque cleaning habits stem from the trauma of a fatal childhood car accident.

And because “Britt-Marie Was Here” is such a character-driven story, the film’s pacing is incredibly slow and its tone slightly uneven. Although there are many scenes of Britt-Marie coaching the soccer team, her close connection with them is never quite believably developed, giving a shaky foundation to the emotional payoff in the third act of the film. This is also partially because the film’s ending leans a little too heavily on underdog sports tropes and the conflict Britt-Marie has with this suddenly important soccer game. 

There are inevitably some cheesy cliches, such as the overly important penalty kick (which is inadvertently hilarious considering the kids lose 14-1) and this motivational line: “If I can become a football coach, then you can score a goal.” The film can’t quite find the balance between “Britt-Marie changed the kids’ lives” and “the kids changed Britt-Marie’s life,” but it is satisfactory enough to make an impact on viewers.

The beauty of “Britt-Marie Was Here” is that, while the main character is on the older side, the story does not revolve around her age. The life events that unfold in the film could have happened to Britt-Marie at any time — she just happened to be 63 when they did. The film explores ageless themes of independence and individuality — and because of this, Britt-Marie’s fish-out-of-water journey is almost more reminiscent of rom-coms “New In Town” or “Sweet Home Alabama” than other films revolving around an older woman’s self-discovery.

Although a Swedish indie film about a 63-year-old wife setting out on an internal journey seems very niche, the themes of self-discovery, changing identity and human connection are for all to enjoy.

Julie Lim covers film. Contact her at [email protected].