I haven’t seen too many movies from Finland. That’s a shame purely because it limits my opportunities to put on a movie and go, ‘Is it Finnish? No, it’s just started’. But enough of the Dad jokes and on to the Suomi teen dramedy, which had its World Premiere at the Frameline San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival on June 19th 2017.
Miku is in his late teens, and doesn’t seem to quite know where he stands in the world. Quiet and introverted, he allows his wild brother, Sebu, to talk him into organising a wild party just before his parents are due to go and stay at their holiday cottage for the summer. After his parents find out, it puts a strain between Miku and his rather difficult mother, who insists their son spend the whole summer with them.
He then meets fellow teen Elias at their vacation home, who’s staying in the cottage next door. They start hanging out, with the rather awkward Miku seemingly thinking they’ll just be getting wasted and talking nonsense. However, a flirtation quickly develops, with the closeted Miku unsure what to do about the more experienced Elias’ possibly loaded questions. Is he reading something into Elias’ behaviour or not, and if he’s not, how it he ment to react?
Soon though, they are pushing past that awkwardness and starting a fledgling relationship, but Elias’ life isn’t as carefree and open as it initially seems, while Miku has to think about what he’s really looking for.
Initially I wasn’t sure I was going to like Screwed. The opening – where it shows you moments of the story as it rewinds backwards to the beginning – seemed unnecessarily tricksy, and Miku himself initially comes across as rather blank, indecisive and a little boring. However, the first section involving a party at Miku’s house is essentially the prologue, giving the movie a little time to introduce us to Miku and his world. He, like many teens, enjoys beer and getting wasted, but that may be because it helps him feel less like he doesn’t know what he’s doing or how to act around others. Even when a girl virtually throws herself at him, it’s not initially clear if he’s pushing her away because he’s consciously not interested, or because of his fears about how to fully engage with the world around him.
The film properly comes to life once he goes on holiday and Elias comes into the picture. Miku’s quiet sweetness more fully emerges, with the movie mining drama from whether the cocky Elias is going to be good for Miku’s emerging sexuality or not. What’s really nice is that while Miku’s awkwardness initially makes it seem like he doesn’t know what he wants, as the film goes on it shows that social uncertainty doesn’t mean he’s not relatively smart about relationships underneath, and he may actually be more mature than the more outwardly confident Elias. Indeed, he may also be more mature than his own mother.
There is inevitably some Coming Out to do, but the film doesn’t overplay it with unnecessary melodrama or make it the emotional crux of the movie in the way many other films have. Smartly, the ‘revelation’ to his parents is quickly flipped around to be more revealing about his mother’s character and the dysfunctions inside their family than it is about Miku actually saying he’s gay. As with other parts of the movie, you end up feeling sorry for Miku, purely because the movie sets him up as a basically good (if sometimes a little clueless) young man who deserves more than he has.
Even so, the whole thing might have come across as rather too earnest if it were leavened by humour. There’s a wry wit running through the film, whether it’s a bar owner slyly serving the underage teens as long as they pay extra, or Miku’s tendency to give unintentionally funny answers when he isn’t sure what to say or quite what’s going on. Indeed, it’s his seeming non-sequiturs and tendency to express his feelings while saying something that on the surface seems unrelated, that make him particularly endearing. Of course, it helps that Mikko Kauppila gives a very sweet performance as Miku, while Valtteri Lehtinen as Elias treads a fine line in ensuring his character’s emotional carelessness doesn’t become unjustifiable so that you’d end up disliking him.
Screwed may take a while to get going, and ultimately there’s not a vast amount it does that we haven’t seen before in teen gay romances, but it does it with charm, wit and a real sweetness. What’s also really nice is that while sex is always present (and despite the double meaning of the film’s title), it is intimacy in relationships that it really values, so that even for teen boys it’s the lying in bed together afterwards that’s more special than the act itself. And for Miku, a bit of binge-watching The Sopranos wouldn’t go amiss.
Overall Verdict: After a slow-build that might make you suspicious it will be a little too pleased with itself, Screwed becomes a charming, sweet and sometimes funny gay teen romance that will leaving you feeling warm.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac