2018, NR, 123 min. Directed by Pernille Fischer Christensen. Starring Alba August, Trine Dyrholm, Maria Bonnevie, Henrik Rafaelsen, Björn Gustafsson, Magnus Krepper, Maria Fahl-Vikander.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Dec. 7, 2018
Before she was Astrid Lindgren, the creator of the indelible Pippi Longstocking (or Pippi Långstrump in her native Sweden), she was Astrid Ericsson, a young girl growing up in a small village in southern Sweden. One perhaps might think that the origin story of one of the most beloved children’s authors of the last century would be that of a free spirit, breaking the confines of a rural life of planting potatoes and dutifully attending church on Sunday. And there is that, but Becoming Astrid is not quite the fairy tale that bespeaks the creator of wonderful worlds without adult supervision. Rather, it is at times a harrowing journey of a young woman navigating a system bent on attempting to break her, and Astrid’s steadfast will in overcoming it.
Those looking for scenes of her laying down her prose will not be rewarded. The film begins in 1923 as Astrid turns 16, and becomes an intern at the local newspaper, copyediting obituaries and proofreading articles for her editor Blomberg (Rafaelsen). The two enter into an affair, complicated by Blomberg’s tumultuous and vicious divorce proceedings with his soon-to-be ex-wife. For a time, it becomes a rather silly melodrama, one in which Astrid gives birth to their son, Lars, and must shepherd him away to a foster home in Denmark – the fear of societal repercussions trumping any kind of maternal instinct here. And while I get it, how this woman, who is unable to raise her son, who must negotiate this 20th century world with often horrible results, the film becomes a dour thing, strewn with episodes of an estranged mother trying to connect with a child who does not know her. Does that sound like fun? Because it isn’t.
Becoming Astrid’s saving grace is Alba August. She is in almost every frame of this film, and gives life to what, on paper, amounts to a Lifetime channel biopic. Her luminescence is a wonderful and needed counterpoint to what amounts to a particularly grim story of an author in her formative years. Yes, we all must suffer for our art, and Astrid suffered more than most. It just would have been nice to see the fruits of these labors depicted, rather than relegated to a coda over the end titles.