Based on a series of books and subsequent radio recordings, Finnish director Dome Karukoski’s sixth feature film concerns, as the title suggests, a grumpy and stubborn old man (played by Finnish acting legend Antti Litja) set in his ways and perpetually at odds with the modern world in which he lives. To his own consistent proclamation, everything was better in his day and everything since has managed to somehow ruin his day, whether it be a change of anchor who reads the local news or a new piece of technology thrust upon his daily life.
When he falls in his basement and hurts his ankle, he has to go live with his son and his family, including his workaholic daughter-in-law, in the big city of Helsinki. This is much to his chagrin not only because it generally interrupts his controlled daily routine but also because it means he can no longer visit and take care of his wife who has Alzheimer’s disease.
The Grump is a film to which we can all relate in one way or another. There are certain comedic through lines and in-jokes – such as his antagonistic banter with a visiting group of Russian businessmen – that simply won’t connect with an audience outside of its native country; it’s no surprise that the film was a huge box office smash over there. However, what lies at the heart of the film and why it will appeal to people from all walks of life is the generational gap and the butting of heads between those of the older generation who are used to things being done in a certain way (and clinging onto that for dear life) and those of the younger, technology-driven one.
It’s a film that’s as wonderfully acted as it is shot, with a beautiful mixture of up-close-and-personal character interactions and stunningly staged, almost dreamlike shots of the landscapes that the location has to offer. It’s ultimately a comedy, sometimes verging on the farcical as The Grump goes on little mini adventures while forcing his increasingly frustrated family to adhere to his old-fashioned ways, but shrewdly tugs at your heart strings and occasionally lands a dramatic gut punch that will leave you thinking even as it continues to make you giggle.
It’s clearly a very personal film for the director (in the Q&A following the screening he explained how he drew inspiration from his relationship with his late father) and that sincerity really permeates the film and elevates it beyond mere quirky, inconsequential comedy. But despite its obvious personal connections to the filmmaker, it’s widely appealing in the best sense; we all know someone like The Grump and the film captures the complexities, frustrations and, yes, cathartically comical moments of the universally relatable generational gap. A melancholic delight.