It’s easy to fear the worst whenever watching an incredibly low budget gay film. Bad acting, overly familiar storylines and awkward comic moments often collide, leaving an end product you’d have to be a masochist to sit through in its entirety. From the outside, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Finnish comedy-drama Screwed (Pihalla) would fall into this category – but director Nils-Erik Ekblom overcomes the usual pitfalls of filmmakers with limited budgets, using the few tools at his disposal to fantastic effect by creating a believably, inescapably awkward atmosphere for the characters.
It may have a more optimistic worldview (and higher production value) than the Dogme 95 films created by Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, but it shares their love of generating laughs from the sheer awkwardness of relationships between families and sexual partners, and using the stripped-down filmmaking style to amplify this.
Seventeen year old Miku (Mikko Kauppila) has reluctantly decided to throw a party with his older brother, the last chance they’ll get for ages due to their mother getting laid off from work. Miku is forced into multiple situations by his brother in order to get laid – awkwardly removing himself from each situation in a way that all but signals he’s deep in the closet. After the party leaves the family home trashed, Miku takes full responsibility, making their imminent summer holiday to their countryside villa altogether more awkward. Into this turbulent family dynamic steps Elias (Valtteri Lehtinen), who has a neighbouring holiday home at the country retreat. He shares similar family problems with Miku, meaning it was only a matter of time before the pair became friends – and eventually, much more, as Miku experiences his first summer romance.
Although the title suggests nothing more than a bawdy sex comedy, the majority of the films laughs come via the keenly observed character dynamics. Mikko Kauppila manages to play up Miko’s awkwardness for maximum comic effect; the sort of guy who’ll try to get out of having sex by talking about The Sopranos, or changing the subject from sex talk by namedropping Transformers. He naturally grows in confidence as the film progresses, but the screenplay by Nils-Erik Ekblom and Tom Norrgrann seamlessly avoids using this to completely transform the character – moments of growth, like the pivotal coming out scene, quickly transform into unexpected comic sequences that manage to balance a newfound acceptance with the same hilarious awkwardness that came before.
It’s a surprise that Screwed (Pihalla) hasn’t been more of a fixture on the festival circuit over the past year. Director Nils-Erik Ekblom has crafted exactly what you’d want from a crowd pleasing coming of age movie; he manages to effectively blend an embarrassingly relatable cringe comedy with a relatable story of stepping out of the closet as awkwardly as possible. Look past the English language title (which suggests a different film entirely) and you’ll find one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of TLA Releasing