Show Me Love

One of the biggest box office blockbusters in recent memory is Show Me Love, a modest comedy about two schoolgirls who defy conventional norms by falling in love with each other. Needless to say, it was not in America that such a film gave even Titanic a run for its money. It happened in its home country, Sweden.

Written and directed by 20 year old poet Lukas Moodysson, Show Me Love follows Agnes and Elin, a study in opposites, on their roundabout course to love. Half waif, half tomboy in appearance, Agnes is the school outcast because of her rumored lesbianism. (The rumors are true, but Agnes has yet to kiss her first girl.) Elin is a conspicuous gadabout bored with her virginity and frustrated by the boredom of small town life. The overripe Elin looks ready to literally burst through her too-small blouses, and she erupts into an agonized war cry when the tedium of life grows too acute. (The film’s unabashed Swedish title, Fucking Amal, reflects her feelings about her hometown.)

When the film opens, Agnes is already in love with Elin, mooning over her in the school cafeteria and carelessly doodling her name on her schoolwork. Show Me Love traces the process by which Elin notices and falls in love with her reclusive admirer and then works up the nerve to admit it both to herself and the world.

Unlike coming-out movies like Desert Hearts, Show Me Love doesn’t settle for facile characterization or self assertive sloganeering. It’s a warm, undidactic coming-of-age story that happens to be a coming-out story. Moodysson’s script contains some beautifully relaxed vignettes, such as when Elin tries to understand her mother’s fascination with a grotesque TV show. We’re given quick, internal glimpses of how these kids act when they’re alone in their bedrooms with their favorite music turned up loud.

Moodysson also respects his supporting characters enough to fill them out. Chief among these is Elin’s sister, Jessica (Erica Carlson, who is wonderful in the part), a girl brimming with misplaced self-confidence. She considers herself wise beyond her years, but she’s only smart on a pedestrian scheming level. After the girls return home from a night of mischief, Jessica gobbles down all of the potato chips in the house so their mother will think they’ve been home all evening. And when Elin asks her why she stays with her loutish boyfriend, Jessica can only answer with a country-western singer’s resignation, "That’s just the way it is." Unlike Elin, she’ll never question her identity because there’s nothing there to question – her future is already fixed.

Also on the scene is Johan (Mathias Rust), a classmate whom Elin uses in an attempt to convince herself of her own heterosexuality. Johan is sympathetic, but an unadulterated dolt. When we see him carefully creasing the brim of his Nike baseball cap and studying its effect in the mirror, it’s plain that even he doesn’t think it looks cool – he’s just giving coolness his best shot in the dark. And when he becomes a casualty of Elin’s confusion (the point at which most filmmakers would abruptly lose interest in him), his pain is expressed clearly enough to let us know that at least one part of Show Me Love belongs to him.

Moodysson could have invested more care on Agnes, whose character falls off the screen for the last third of the picture. That allows Elin to take over the movie – it is, after all, her story – but we are never sure what attracted Agnes to her in the first place. Elin comes off like a half-bright slattern in the film’s early scenes when we see her through Agnes’ eyes, and the girls’ first kiss is the punch line to a truly sadistic practical joke that Elin plays on Agnes. In a movie where even the Johans get their due, it would be nice to feel like the Agneses had been thought through as well.

Moodysson’s control of his material is rough, bordering on raw in a couple of key scenes, and he forces our attention where he wants it to go with obtrusive zoom-ins. One shot in particular has an almost pornographic effect, invading Agnes’ space at a moment when the camera should have been content to hang back and observe her.

But Moodysson has wrought real miracles with his actors, particularly from his leads. (Most of the cast had no previous acting experience though you’d never guess it.) Alexandra Dahlstrom, who plays Elin, already looks like a star. Rebecka Liljeberg, as Agnes, has a relaxed, near playful way of performing that’s reminiscent of Genevieve Bujold. The shots of the two lovers standing next to each other, with Dahlstrom in her barfly’s get-up and Liljeberg dressed like a teenaged boy, are highly amusing, but they’re also oddly convincing. These two look like they belong together.

Show Me Love‘s climax is weakly conceived and staged, but the movie’s final scene is an intriguing, and slightly unsettling, coda set in Elin’s bedroom. The scene subtly reminds us that these young women are scarcely more than children, and that the human heart is a fragile thing even when it has found what it desires.

– Tom Block