It was perhaps inevitable that Swedish author Jonas Jonasson’s popular 2009 novel, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, would make it to the big screen. A tale which straddles multiple decades and features a host of colourful supporting characters, it’s a book which almost seemed primed for cinematic treatment upon conception and now comes to life courtesy of director Felix Herngren. Swedish comedian and actor Robert Gustafsson plays the titular role of Allan Karlsson, once an explosives expert/obsessive with a penchant for vodka, now a dithering old gentleman who escapes from his care home as celebrations are being organised for his centenary.
Aimlessly wandering around one day and happening upon the local bus station, Karlsson inadvertently finds himself in possession of a suitcase packed full of drug money which a local skinhead gang are desperate to retrieve. With an inept detective also on his trail, Karlsson embarks on an adventure of happenstance, picking up a trio of strangers on the way and slowly revealing the many layers of his earlier life, revolving around his often booze-sodden globe-trotting escapades and many brushes with history. These include a brief meeting with Franco, a daring escape from a Soviet Gulag camp, a treacherous trek across the Himalayan mountain range and also having a hand in creating the first atomic bomb (all are recounted via an inexplicable English voiceover narration). Rutherford eat your heart out.
Anyone fond of the whimsical works of Wes Anderson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet should connect with The Hundred-Year-Old Man. This deadpan caper comes complete with a mordant wit and a great central performance from fortysomething Gustafsson, playing Karlsson from a young man, right through to his wizened years (and making a highly convincing stab of portraying an older gent). What works less successfully is the merging of the two timelines, which mesh together awkwardly and with surprisingly little imagination. You’re essentially lifted out of the present narrative and dropped into the past without much in the way of continuity between the two which kills a little of the film’s momentum. Nevertheless, this isn’t enough to distract from the overall enjoyment. The committed cast help sell the tall tale, and Herngren has fun in coating his flashbacks with various stylistic nods and knowing visual touches. Fans of Jonasson’s source novel may find themselves a little underwhelmed here, but The Hundred-Year-Old Man is a gentle and amiable enough fantasy yarn.