Ever since I first saw him in Fargo, I have been a fan of Peter Stormare. I have an affinity for the type of guys you love but know will never be a “Name above the title” marquee star; in fact part of why I love Armageddon so much is that it actually has three of them in the cast (Stormare, Will Patton, and Jason Isaacs). Stormare’s presence alone guarantees a movie will at least be somewhat entertaining, and he alone is why I opted to step away from horror movies for a bit at Fantastic Fest in order to check out You Said What? (on-screen Norwegian title: Hjelp, vi er i filmbransjen!), a rom-com that was inspired by Audition, of all things.
While many horror fans may cry sacrilege, I am not a fan of Audition. Perhaps if I saw without knowing it was a “horror movie” of any sort, it might have worked, but I personally just found it slow during the dramatic parts and merely kind of boring during the horror scenes at the end (I have yet to fully enjoy any Miike films, for the record). So seeing a movie inspired by it wouldn’t entice me on its own – I needed some Stormare Star-Power to sweeten the deal.
And thus it’s to the movie’s credit that I was fully enjoying it even when Stormare was not on screen, which was often (he was only on set for one day and thus only appears in three brief scenes). He plays an exaggerated (I think?) version of himself, and his role in the film is somewhat meta – he’s just there to add some name value to an otherwise obscure production. The plot concerns a group of fans without a lot going on in their lives who decide to follow Audition’s lead and hold an open casting call for actresses to star in a “role playing horror film”, but it’s really a ruse to find our hero (Henrik Thodesen) a girlfriend.
The difference between this and the characters in Miike’s film, however, is that the group decides to actually make the movie in order to keep her around, with Glenn’s pals all taking various roles in the production. Naturally, they don’t know the first thing about making a movie, and then they further exacerbate things by blowing a sizable chunk of their budget (secured by promising Stormare, a name one of them pulls out of his ass) on a party that includes such extravagances as a “free money box”. And thus the movie follows a fairly predictable pattern for two different genres: the romantic comedy based entirely on a lie, and the less-common (but still popular enough to make a sub-genre) “group of misfits make a movie” film.
But what it lacks in unique storytelling it makes up for in simple charm, an ingredient often lacking from most modern films regardless of genre. The rom-com in particular has become a rather vile section at the video store, with unpleasant people like Katherine Heigl churning out dreck like The Ugly Truth on a yearly basis, or movies like Bride Wars where the entire movie hinges on two alleged best friends constantly doing terrible things to one another. Here, the expected 3rd act “and it all comes out” scenes are a bit sad of course, but they’re not based on anyone doing things for selfish reasons. Glenn may have “lied” in a very basic sense, but it’s not like he was just rolling a camera without film in it – they really did make their movie and really did give the girl (Marte Christensen, a wonderful presence) the leading role.
It also works as an ensemble as sorts, with all of Glenn’s pals helping on the film and realizing their own dreams in the process. Failing DJ Kim (Stein Johan Grieg Halvorsen) discovers he can compose the film; Lennart the failing artist (Stig Frode Henriksen) is allowed to do the poster and other designs, etc. And best friend Phillip (Odd Magnus Williamson) just continues doing what he has always done – aiding his best mate however he can (in this case, acting as producer). The four actors have a terrific chemistry, and manage to secure well-placed laughs even in the more heated scenes. Slightly less successful is a subplot about two guys that live across the hall from them; while their initial role is to show up asking for random ingredients (milk, eggs, etc), they are ultimately revealed to be somewhat awful people, with one rather terrible act played for laughs. Perhaps in Norway this is funny, but here it feels a bit mean-spirited to say the least, and doesn’t fit well with the otherwise sweet and sincere tone of the rest of the film.
Speaking of culture differences, the only real issue with the movie is that they base jokes and references around things that a general US audience (or one anywhere outside of Norway) will likely understand. A lengthy argument about the merit of movies like Dead Snow might just seem like unfunny padding to anyone who isn’t aware that the two films share a producer, and numerous references to the Swedish financing process and specific actors (or directors?) will go over many heads. I couldn’t help but think of Let The Right One In – there’s a movie that is universally relatable to audiences, yet they remake it for US. If one must remake a modern foreign film, it should be films like this, where some of the humor might be “lost in translation”.
Sadly, a remake might have a different soundtrack, which would be a shame. Not having to deal with the copyright issues as of yet, the film is loaded with terrific 80s pop: Reo Speedwagon, Alphaville, Air Supply… all these great power ballads that you giggle at when you recognize the first couple of chords and eventually start singing along to (come on, you can admit that you’re wondering right now if it’s that one Air Supply song you really love). The US remake would probably have wall to wall Kings Of Leon or fucking Train or something. However it might be beneficial to change one particular song based moment, based on a famous John Cusack scene – parodying this bit has been done to death already.
Otherwise, they could literally just change the names and places and use the same script for a remake and it would still be a winner. By actually making the movie pleasant (though not without an edge), it would still stick out amidst a sea of forgettable paint by numbers shit like Valentine’s Day, and the movie-making plot is largely a macguffin – for obvious reasons it never gets too jargon-y or “only funny to insiders”, and thus isn’t any more of a “inside Hollywood” type story than Notting Hill.
Admittedly, part of the reason I enjoyed it was because it was so different than everything else I was seeing. After seeing 2-3 slow-burn thrillers, it was great to smile and laugh along with characters who weren’t going to end up murdered by the end of the picture. Indeed, it was my favorite film of the festival until I saw the similarly sweet-natured Boy And His Samurai two days later. And for that I am glad that these movies were included in the lineup; while neither was as exciting or “in demand” as the You’re Nexts and Human Centipede IIs of the festival, both were far more fitting of the “Fantastic” part of its title than most of the genre fare I saw.