With its winning blend of history and pitch-black humour, Jonas Jonasson’s book The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared followed in the footsteps of Scandinavian hits like the Millennium trilogy to become a worldwide bestseller. Little surprise then that a film adaptation has followed, directed by Felix Herngren with popular Swedish comedian and actor Robert Gustafsson in the eponymous role. And a sheer delight it proves to be, smartly streamlining the book and crucially retaining its absurdist tone to appeal not just to fans of the book, but to the young and mischievous at heart as well.
For newcomers to the life of sprightly centenarian Allan Karlsson, the film follows him on a journey involving a suitcase full of cash, criminals and an elephant, among other things, after he escapes from his nursing home. As with the book, the film utilises flashbacks to tell the story of Allan’s life, a life which saw him at the heart of many of the most important events of the 20th Century. Its opening scene sets up the audience perfectly for the next two hours as Allan, an explosives connoisseur, blows up a fox that killed his beloved pet by hiding dynamite in sausages. If that doesn’t make you chuckle guiltily, then it’s safe to say the film might not be for you.
For everyone else though, there’s plenty to admire. Gustafsson is an endearing lead with perfect comic timing whether in or out of make-up, and he’s ably supported by Iwar Wiklander, Mia Skäringer and David Wiberg as the companions on his unexpected journey. It’s fortunate that they’re strong as the historical characters are little more than stereotypes and Alan Ford – in a role invented for the film – feels out of place and a tad surplus to requirements. It’s really the only misstep in the journey from page to screen for the film, with some of the book’s more unwieldly subplots (including the fictional twin brother of Albert Einstein, Herbert, and his wife) jettisoned in part or entirely.
The big moments from the book are all present and correct though, and wonderfully realised, with Allan’s escape from a Gulag and an unfortunate incident with the aforementioned elephant the highlights. Helped by the streamlining of the novel, Herngren keeps things fast-paced and breezy throughout to the point that if one sequence isn’t to your tastes, another that does appeal will swiftly follow. Like the book, The 100-Year Old Man… is a crowdpleaser and hopefully, if audiences can handle subtitles, it can follow the book and deservedly cross over into the mainstream at the box office.
With its winning blend of history and pitch-black humour, Jonas Jonasson’s book The 100-Year-Old Man...