director Lasse Hallström
Back in 1987, I saw My Life as a Dog and totally fell in love with it. 12 year old Ingemar, a rambunctious character who gets into all kinds of good-natured trouble, identifies with all sorts of tragic news stories, most specifically that of Laika, the Russian dog, shot into space, who eventually starved to death. Ingemar’s mother is dying and he ends up going to live with in the country with his uncle and aunt and an array of characters who populate the town.
There is the green-haired boy. The old man who has him read to him surreptitiously from lingerie advertisements. The beautiful blond who brings him along as she poses in the nude for a sculptor to keep things “artistic”. The man who eternally works on his roofing. The wacky inventor who builds a rocket ride that breaks down. And the remarkably cute girl with the short brown hair who likes to pass for a boy so that she can play sport.
It’s bittersweet and funny, quirky and charming. And I thought it was great.
It is pretty great. Director Lasse Hallström hit is stride with his gentle storytelling but really had his coup with the casting. Anton Glanzelius, who played Ingemar, has perhaps one of the cutest, sweetest smiles in all of cinema. He’s freaking lovable! And Melinda Kinneman, who played Saga, the tomboy, is terrific and is as cute as girls that age could be. I think even at that time I wanted to go back and be 12 again just to fall in love with her.
My Life as a Dog isn’t a kids film, but as I’ve been trying to expand our movie-viewing a bit, I thought we’d give it a go. The other experiment was that we watched it in Swedish, with me reading the subtitles to the kids. I don’t think that they could keep up with the reading but I wanted to open the experience of listening to another language and thought it’d be worth the go. It was. They both enjoyed it, tough Felix noted that it was “pretty sad”, what with Ingemar losing his mother and even more tragically, his beloved dog.
Hallström has gone on to Hollywood, making What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), The Cider House Rules (1999), and many others, most of which are these family melodramas that are more tinged with the bittersweet. I’ve always kept My Life as a Dog in a special place. It’s a sweet film and a good one. And those kids are some of the most likable children ever to grace the silver screen.