The opening scenes to “Au pair, Kansas” feature a forty-ish woman and her two teenage sons standing at the airport of a small Mid-West American town holding up a Swedish flag. My friends and I all laughed out loud, because we knew the character they were meeting was actually supposed to be Norwegian. D’oh.
The mother is played by Traci Lords, who everyone these days seems to remember from her teenage porn-star years, and yet I’m more familiar with her role on Melrose Place. The character she plays is a widow. Her husband died recently from skin cancer, and with a bunch of secrets I won’t reveal here, as that would spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it. With a bison farm and two sons, she advertises for male au pair. Deep down, perhaps, she is also looking to find a new partner?
That’s where the character of Oddmund comes in. He’s a soccer-obsessed thirty-something from Norway. She assumes he is gay, because, as a friend tell her “all au pairs are gay”. But he’s not.
The character of Oddmund is played by Håvard Lilleheie. I’ve never heard of him before, though he’s well known in Norway as a comedian and actor. He is on the Norwegian version of the well-known American TV show, “The Man Show”. A bit of googling reveals he often gets his clothes off, which is not necessarily a bad thing At times I struggled with this role simply because of his accent. There’s a little bit of the “dumb foreigner” in the role, and even though he’s Norwegian, it sometimes sounded like he was putting on a very bad Norwegian accent.
The film is set in the Mid-West which was heavily settled by the Swedes. Wikipedia reveals during the Swedish imigration to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries, about 1.3 million Swedes left Sweden for the United States. That would have been maybe 25-30% of the population. The dominance of Swedish culture in the area is evident in a couple of scenes, including a Lucia Ceremony, a Swedish dance, a Dala horse, and even in the local football team being called “The Vikings”. There were quite a few occasions when my friends and I laughed out loud at some of these references, and also in some of the stereotypes which Norwegians and Swedes use to describe each other.
“We shot the film in just eighteen days”, the director told us at the end of tonight’s screening at Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival. In part, that explains why sometimes the acting is a little clunky. “Do you play soccer?”, the Traci Lord character asks her potential boyfriend, to which he replies, “I play soccer like you play neurotic”. Telling.
The actors who play the sons, Spencer Daniels as Atticus (he was in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Kendall Ryan Sanders as Beau a both very good in their roles, displaying maturity in their very complex roles. There’s a suggestion the younger son, maybe 12 years old, is actually gay, a suggestion confirmed by the director at tonight’s screening, confirming the role is based in some ways on his own life.
Still, “The film’s not gay enough for some festivals”, he told us. “But when it plays in the mid-west, they really understand it”. We “got it” in Sydney, too.
As we left the cinema tonight there was a large crowd lining up to see another little bit of Sweden at this year’s festival. It’s a film called, Fyra år till (Four More Years) which we’re going to see on Tuesday night. It’s about what happens when one of Sweden’s most popular politicians, destined to be a future Prime Minister falls in love with another man.