My Life as a Comedian @ TIFF

We all like to think of our childhood as idyllic times filled with happiness, learning about the world and a sense of being carefree. As lovely as that would be, such is not the case for many. Some due to trauma or bullying don’t even make it out of childhood. Sadly, they are suffering so much that they see death as the only viable outlet.

This is a film which completely surprised me. I went into it thinking it would be filled with humour (due to the title) and even as I began to watch it, I thought it would be a nostalgic look back to childhood. Instead it became a nuanced and unpredictable tale. Director Rojda Sekersöz should be commended for her clear eye and deft touch while bringing this to life.

My Life as a Comedian is based on the classic Swedish novel by Jonas Gardell. Sävbyholm, Sweden is the setting. It really could be in any suburb in any country, though. Many out there will feel the similarities to where they grew up. A quiet place filled with middle class people living in houses that pretty much all look the same. Seems like the perfect place to grow up. But behind the front doors live families whose lives are often not as pretty as the picture they present.

Our protagonist, Juha (Johan Rheborg – Sunny Side, Kenny Begins) grew up in Sävbyholm in the 70s. When he could he left for the city. Never looking back. He has gone on to become a popular performer. While in the middle of a run of shows, he and his sister are going through the stuff which his now deceased mother kept over the years. One such thing was his grade 6 yearbook. Looking at it sparks memories for Juha. Not good ones.

He begins to think back to that year. Grade six. Just before he went off to junior high. Juha (Loke Helberg – The War Game) was friends with Jenny (Elisabet Xie – first film) and Thomas (Teo Dellback – first film). All outcasts of sorts they live close to one another so naturally have formed friendships. They are content…well, Jenny and Thomas are, whereas Juha, a class clown who loves to perform sketches for his classmates, wants to be part of the cool kids group.

As such he is quite cruel to both Jenny and Thomas in front of the other kids, especially Stefan (Alexander Johansson – first film). Even going so far as to beating up Thomas a couple of times to safe face in front of Stefan.

Now as an adult – 40 years later, thinking back to the things he did, Juha is ashamed. Previously, he did not want anything to do with Sävbyholm or going back there. He even turns down a very lucrative gig there. But Juha comes to realize he is not finished with the place where he grew up and has some amends to make for what he was a part of.

This is an interesting look at a comedian looking back at his life and wanting to make amends for the wrongs he committed. A timely subject (Louis CK, Aziz Ansari, etc.) to say the least. You will find yourself of two minds when it comes to the Juhas. The young one is hard to like, yet you understand his motivations. We have all done things in our younger days which we regret. Or did not think out the full ramifications of. The older Juha is much more likable. He feels contrition. Maybe a case of too little, too late, but he still gets there…eventually.

Kids can be brutal. We don’t often think or talk about that as adults. Many a kid was damaged during what are supposed to be our carefree years. Experience pain that they cannot escape from. Often at the hands of their peers. It is hard to watch it happen unfold on the big screen. Scenes like this might make you turn away moreso than a gory horror. One is obviously fake while the other is just too real. What is amazing, and what this film points out quite astutely, is that adults seem to turn a blind eye to it. Allow it to go on, not seeming to be equiped to even believe it is happening. We have trouble, it seems, accepting what is human nature.

I was shocked and terribly affected by the ending. So tragic. So avoidable. Painful to watch because you know there are have been thousands of occurences like this. Will leave you with a big lump in your throat and a heavy heart as the lights go up then the credits start rolling. A film which will have most leaving silently and not ready to talk about for a time. Though, on the bright side, might inspire some out there to make amends for the wrongs they have committed. It is not too late.

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