By Meg Shields
Within the first several minutes of My Life as a Comedian, it becomes readily apparent that something terrible is going to happen: the kind of inevitable third-act tragedy that leaves now-grown protagonists with weighty shoulders and instant recoil at the mention of hometowns. This is certainly the case with Juha, a now famous stand-up determined to bury and forget his upbringing in the idyllic Swedish suburb of Sävbyholm. Yet, despite his best efforts, grown-up Juha (Johan Rheborg) is plagued by ghosts, and one night, an old name from his past claws its way back into Juha’s life: the aged revenant of a bully, or was it a friend? In grade school, the line was fuzzy for Juha: too much of an outsider to be popular, but willing enough to throw others under the proverbial bus to get a taste.
It is perhaps a necessary shame that the present-day portions of the film are less captivating than the flashbacks to Juha’s childhood, which feature some enchantingly gauche production design and invested performances from the child actors. Meanwhile, the adult portions of the film give the impression that the absolution of Juha’s guilt is of greater importance than the wrongs themselves, one of which takes place offscreen and only seems to exist to motivate Juha’s soul-searching. Ultimately, the emotional pull of Juha achieving closure packs less of a punch than his accepting responsibility for what happened. And while it might be too much to ask for an adaptation of an autobiographical memoir to de-centre its author (it’s adapted by Jonas Gardell from his own bestseller), it would have made for a more compelling film.