It’s every child’s worst nightmare: they walk into class after a long summer break, only to find that there’s another student with the exact same name. Spare a thought for poor Sune (Elis Gerdt) then, who must be referred to as “Sune Two” for the rest of his school life. To rub salt into the wound, New Sune (John Österlund) is cooler in every way — he’s a year older, lived in the USA, and likes watching artsy documentaries. How can Old Sune ever compete?
Based on the wildly popular Swedish children’s books, Sune vs Sune is the kind of family comedy that is fully aware of how silly it is, and uses that fact to its advantage. While hardly reaching the artistic heights of the Paddington films (with which it shares a similar moral sentiment), it is stuffed full of endless jokes, making you laugh despite the corny subject matter. Honestly, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
The parents here are just as insecure as the children. The mother is ashamed of her battered, uninsured car, and tries to avoid any responsibility as class representative (parents are expected to help out at schools in Scandinavia), while Dad, who works as a tax accountant, openly wonders whether he is the most boring person on the planet. These subplots interweave and mirror the children, eventually playing something like a sitcom parody of the conventional Swedish family.
These characters have been around since 1984 — in radio form, countless books, an animated TV series, and five feature films — becoming something of an institution in Swedish culture. First-time director Jon Holmberg and screenwriters Daniella Mendel-Enk and Sara Young have evidently grown up with these characters, and make them feel very strong right from the start. Tightly scripted with about two-to-three gags a minute, it’s one of those cheesy films that makes you laugh, then think — but never too hard.
The key theme is honesty, both with yourself and the people around you. Old Sune finds out the hard way when he tells his crush, Sophie (Lily Wahlsteen), that he doesn’t want to sing with her at the parents meeting because he heard New Sune say it was lame. Naturally, New Sune takes over, and is soon the Romeo to her Juliet. And I mean that literally; it’s the new choice for the school play. (You have to just let go of the fact that a bunch of 11 year-olds managed to rehearse an entire Shakespeare play within a week, replete with some fairly good recreations of the Verona countryside.)
Films like this are mostly content to rest upon cringe comedy for all their jokes (and there’s just a little too much of that here), so it’s refreshing that Sune vs Sune has a really keen visual sense as well. Jokes often play out in the back of the frame, allowing plot and subplot to intertwine in a truly Shakespearean way. Complemented by fantasy sequences, fake-outs, and impeccable comic editing, Sune vs Sune shows that visual flair can be the difference between something lame and something that’s actually funny. That’s the best endorsement I can give — the jokes just keep landing, making for one of the funniest family comedies in ages.
The 69th Berlin Film Festival runs February 7, 2019 – February 17, 2019. Visit the festival’s official website for more info.