Becoming Astrid (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Anyone curious about the author of “Pippi Longstocking,” will have a lot to ponder and consider here.
Alba August delivers a terrific performance, providing the film’s heart and soul in nearly every scene.
Beautifully shot, well-acted, with a compelling story few likely know about, Becoming Astrid is a nice, little discovery from Sweden.
Not a children’s film, or family film, despite the subject matter.
Runs a bit long in the tooth at 123 minutes, and with subtitles and a measured pace, Becoming Astrid might be a lot of work for less patient viewers.
Does adhere to a pretty common biopic formula, which speaks more of American cinematic influence than viewers may be anticipating.
The motion picture biopic oftentimes sticks to a rather tried-and-true formula. With hundreds of biographical films, either tagged as “Based on a True Story” or “Inspired by a True Story,” we are lulled into a sense of believing everything put before us as truthful.
Ironically, when a movie tends to deviate wildly from the truth, or stick pretty close to the facts, no one seems to understand the difference. I mention this, because Swedish import, Becoming Astrid, clearly draws its influences from the formula set by American-made biopics: Whisk through the formative years of a life, utilize an episodic or vignette-style story structure, then send us away with title cards, and a nod and wink to the real life depicted before us.
The formula is the formula because the formula works in so many instances. And, for the most part, Becoming Astrid works exceedingly well in detailing around a decade in the life of Astrid Lindgren, from approximately age 16 through 25. Lindgren would go on and write the famous “Pippi Longstocking” series, still loved and read to this very day. Yet, as it turns out, she stumbled into some complications as a young woman, which director and co-writer Pernille Fischer Christensen explores as we see what led to her writing such beloved children’s stories.
The film retains a gorgeous, sun-lit look and feel, with Alba August portraying Astrid, something of a precocious teenager, with a penchant for writing. In a decision that would change everyone’s lives, her father, Samuel (Magnus Krepper), connects her with a local editor and publisher, Reinhold Blomberg (Henrik Rafaelsen), securing an internship at a local newspaper. After settling into her new job, she becomes a prized asset, but also grows very close with her boss, who is concurrently going through a separation and divorce from his wife and family.
Ultimately, lines blur and soon, a barely-turned 18-year-old Astrid is left carrying a baby, which could bring Blomberg up on adultery charges if it is proven he is the father. After a falling out with her family, and under the pretense that she and Blomberg will marry, she relocates from Sweden to Denmark temporarily. She meets and stays with the kind foster mother Marie (Trine Dyrholm). With Marie taking care of her baby, the plan is to bring her son Lars, a/k/a Lasse, home within a few months and begin a life with her future husband.
Oh those best laid plans.
For those who may be wondering when the scenes involving Astrid developing her ideas and working on writing “Pippi Longstocking” occurs, Christensen steers us away from those conventions. As a result, Becoming Astrid becomes an occasionally melodramatic, but impressively acted drama about a woman learning to find a path when people all around her are closing doors of assistance and help.
August is great here and Dyrholm’s performance as Marie is a wonderful complement to Astrid finally maturing and realizing that she needs to take ownership for what she wants in life…and not leave it for others to determine her future. The movie is technically impressive, with an authentic look and feel to the costumes and set design, as well as gorgeous cinematography from Erik Molberg Hansen and a traditional, but effective score from composer Nicklas Schmidt.
If anything, there are moments where we labor a bit too long, even encountering arguments and conflicts which feel repetitive. At 123 minutes, elements of Becoming Astrid feel like they are spinning their wheels. Even in dramatic moments, August brightens the screen with a performance that begins full of youthful excitement, naivete, and enthusiasm, and then matures right before our eyes.
In a lovely bookend to the film, we see a glimpse into how Astrid, and her work, was revered by generations of young readers who found her writing long after her writing days were complete. In totality, Becoming Astrid is a really solid film, with Lindgren’s resilient spirit a story well worth telling.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Alba August, Trine Dyrholm, Maria Bonnevie, Björn Gustafsson, Magnus Krepper, Henrik Rafaelsen, Maria Fahl Vikander, Li Brådhe.
Director: Pernille Fischer Christensen
Written by: Kim Fupz Aakeson, Pernille Fischer Christensen
Release Date: November 23, 2018
Music Box Films