Stockholm, Sweden, 1946.
Married actress Lena Olin; one daughter, Tora, 1995.
Made 16mm film as a teenager that was eventually screened on Swedish TV;
filmed and edited inserts for Swedish TV; directed program "Shall
We Dance" for Danish TV; director and producer of TV programs and
Academy Award nominations, director and screenplay, for
My Life as a Dog.
International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills,
California, 90211, U.S.A.
A Lover and His Lass
Father to Be
My Life as a Dog (+ co-sc)
The Children of Bullerby Village
More about the Children of Bullerby Village
Once Around (+ sc)
What's Eating Gilbert Grape (+ co-exec pr)
Something to Talk About
The Golden Hour
The Cider House Rules
World of Film (television special) (role)
Interview with W. Schneider, in Video , June 1988.
Interview with Anneli Jordahl and H. Lagher, in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 33, no. 2, 1991.
Powers, John, " What's Eating Gilbert Grape ," in New York , 17 January 1994.
Alleva, Richard, " What's Eating Gilbert Grape ," in Commonweal , 22 April 1994.
Schickel, Richard, " Something to Talk About ," in Time , 14 August 1995.
Travers, Peter, " Something to Talk About ," in Rolling Stone , 24 August 1995.
Blocker, Jane, "Woman-House: Architecture, Gender, and Hybridity in 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape?,"' in Camera Obscura (Bloomington), September 1996.
Rooney, David, "The Cider House Rules," in Variety (New York), 13 September 1999.
* * *
Lasse Hallstrom's career has been built upon the substantial foundation of a single film, My Life as a Dog , the film that brought him immediate international recognition and achieved (for a film in a foreign language) an appreciable popular success outside Sweden, and on the strength of which he was invited to Hollywood. The lure of Hollywood is obviously very potent—especially if you are a young filmmaker on the threshold of your career. Whether it was wise of Hallstrom to accept the invitation remains, at this point, after three Hollywood movies of varying distinction, open to discussion.
Hallstrom's is the kind of gentle, somewhat diffident talent that can easily get submerged or misused in the Hollywood machinery, its businessmen's eyes on box office receipts as production costs (and stars' salaries) soar into the stratosphere.
My Life as a Dog is a minor masterpiece, and one of the finest films about childhood ever made, sensitive without sentimentality, generous but clear-sighted, disturbing in its full awareness of what W. B. Yeats called "the ignominy of boyhood," in turns painful, poignant, and hilarious. Essentially, it is a film about survival, celebrating the resilience of its young hero Ingemar while unflinchingly depicting experiences that must leave lifetime scars.
One can imagine such a film being made within the Hollywood context only in a much softened, sentimentalized, and bowdlerized form. The early sequences depict Ingemar's experiences in a family from which the father is completely absent (according to Ingemar, loading bananas somewhere abroad, a task for which the boy tries to convince himself that his father is indispensable—though this may be either pure fantasy or a lie he has been told by adults who lie to him as matter of course), and otherwise consisting of a mother who is dying of (presumably) consumption and an elder brother who has inoculated himself with insensitivity and an assumption of superiority—a "family" in which his only comfort is a dog on which he showers his otherwise unwanted attentions, and which is casually (while Ingemar is away) "put to sleep" as a mere inconvenience. A running theme is Ingemar's exposure to adult sexuality in its multitudinous variety. Especially problematic in Hollywood would be his relationship with a young girl who wants to be perceived as a boy in order to continue playing on the boys' football team, and who becomes Ingemar's sparring partner/opponent in the boxing ring—her ambivalence to her sexuality expressed in her attempts to conceal her developing breasts whilst repeatedly attracting Ingemar's attention to them. The film ends with them huddled up together on a sofa, their complicated sexual/gender problems apparently resolved.
Of Hallstrom's three Hollywood films the second, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? , is clearly the most successful; it is also, not coincidentally, the closest to My Life as a Dog , the characters so memorably incarnated by Johnny Depp and Leonardo di Caprio both relating in somewhat different ways to Ingemar, with Juliette Lewis replacing his idiosyncratic and rebellious girlfriend. Far less audacious than the Swedish film, it is nevertheless a very offbeat project for Hollywood, conceived perhaps as much for its variously eccentric stars as for its atypical director. It allows Hallstrom license to develop his favorite themes—the dysfunctional family, survival within conditions so unpromising as to appear to predetermine defeat—and his finest qualities of generosity and emotional delicacy. One might single out (because on paper they would appear particularly hazardous) Depp's scenes with Mary Steenburgen, the lonely and desperate older woman who uses him as a sexual outlet. Hazardous because such a situation has traditionally (and not only in Hollywood films) been taken as a pretext for the most vindictive and gloating cruelties at the woman's expense. Here, Hallstrom achieves the perfect balance between conflicting needs, each treated with equal sympathy: Steenburgen's sense of deprivation, Depp's need to extricate himself from a situation he has entered into because he is used to being used (everyone in the film has claims on him) and now feels to be false. The least successful seems to me Hallstrom's Hollywood debut, Once Around , although it contains some wonderful scenes and fine performances: its central premise, that a wealthy and aggressive American businessman, with the kind of energy that goes into the multiplication of dollars, might legitimately incarnate the "life force," rejuvenating (with occasional setbacks) all the other characters, is quite simply inadmissible, at least as presented here, without apparent irony.
Hallstrom's film Something to Talk About got a generally bad press (a side-effect, perhaps, of backlash against Julia Roberts, as mindless as the previous adulation); it seems to me a more interesting, intelligent, and coherent film than it has been given credit for. It does, however, raise a question: a new departure for Hallstrom (one would never, I think, guess it was his film), or evidence of his final absorption into "Hollywood" and all that word has come to convey? My present inclination is to defend it, as I think it has been misrepresented. It has been perceived, generally, as a somewhat banal account of how Dennis Quaid, the unfaithful husband, gets his comeuppance and learns to behave "correctly." In fact, Quaid is presented no more critically than the other characters. The real subject of the film (and the real meaning of its title) is that sexual and gender tensions and problems in marriage should be "something to talk about," not push under the carpet. The film's critique of marital infidelity (in the older, as well as the younger, generation) rests essentially on the old but still operative "double standard": husbands do it, wives don't. Roberts's exposure of its ubiquity, although greeted on all sides with horror, becomes an act of liberation, potentially for everyone, male and female. It is only superficially that the film can be read along conventional lines ("Husbands should be punished for infidelity"); it is open to a different reading, that our attitudes toward marriage, sex, fidelity, etc., all need to be rethought and, above all, opened to discussion. It seems to be an open question as to where Hallstrom will, or indeed can, go from here.