Simple Simon -- Film Review

A smart but empathetic comedy built around the not-so-funny symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome

The surprising Swedish film "Simple Simon" performs the neat trick of finding laughs and wisdom about a central character who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, yet does so without trivializing the serious nature of the affliction. The foreign-language Oscar submission from that country could actually wind up with a North American release should an adventurous distributor bet on its gentle comic whimsy.

The surprising Swedish film Simple Simon performs the neat trick of finding laughs and wisdom about a central character who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, yet does so without trivializing the serious nature of the affliction. The foreign-language Oscar submission from that country could actually wind up with a North American release should an adventurous distributor bet on its gentle comic whimsy.

The film’s young director/writer, Andreas Ohman, has been fortunate to find just the right actors to convey both the despair and unexpected rewards experienced by people who do connect with someone challenged in such basic skills as socializing and emotional insight. Bill Skarsgard, son of Stellan Skarsgard, is superb in his portrayal of the titular character, who is anything but simple yet has to find ways around his mental burden to reach the sense of peace and balance he so desperately seeks. Similarly, Martin Wallstrom as his eternally patient but increasingly exasperated older brother Sam and Cecilia Forss and Sofie Hamilton as the two women in their lives all convey a wide range of reactions by people who go the extra mile in terms of empathy but still find this sometimes isn’t enough.

The story pivots around Simon’s anxious attempt to find a new girlfriend for Sam when his own behavior chases away the previous one (Hamilton). Armed with a distinct misunderstanding of how human emotions work, he nevertheless finds a candidate (Forss). This search exposes him to all sorts of things outside his comfort zone whether it is the expression of feelings or simple physical contact.

Ohman, who wrote the script with producer Jonathan Sjoberg, shows considerable visual flair in his demonstration of how Simon’s mental universe works in outer space cartoons — Simon imagines himself as an astronaut floating above any gravitational pull of emotions — and the circles that dictate his life in everything from food preparation to a circular wall chart that instructs him as to responsibilities and events for each day of the week.

Simple Simon pulls off a feel-good ending that is neither cloying nor even an actual ending. Simon has momentarily re-established the balance in his life and made a new friend beyond his brother. But this is no guarantee that chaos won’t resume the next morning.

Opened: Sept. 3 in Sweden
Production company: Naive AB/Sonet Film AB
Cast: Bill Skarsgard, Martin Wallstrom, Cecilia Forss, Sofie Hamilton, Susanne Thorson, Kristoffer Berglund
Director: Andreas Ohman
Screenwriter: Andreas Ohman, Jonathan Sjoberg
Producers: Jonathan Sjoberg, Bonnie Skoog Feeney
Executive producer: Peter Possne
Director of photography: Niklos Johansson
Production designer: Sandra Lindgren
Music: Josef Tuulse
Costume designer: Casandra Cornelio
Editors: Mikael Johansson, Andreas Ohman
Sales: AB Svensk Filmindustri
Unrated, 87 minutes

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