Adapted from a post-Velvet Revolution bestseller, “The Wonderful Years of Lousy Living” is a wry and tender comedy covering 30 years in the life of a Czech family. First film by director Petr Nikolaev lacks idiosyncratic touches and an emotionally engaging center, but the smart script and endearing perfs by the two leads have been drawing local auds in numbers. It isn’t the next “Kolya, ” but neighboring Euro territories could give this one a spin.
Kvido, the novel’s smugly precocious hero, followed from in-utero to university, takes a back seat in the movie version to his parents, Ales and Milena (richly textured by “Kolya” vets Ondrej Vetchy and Libuse Safrankova). The terminally modest Milena, a lawyer who moonlights as an actress, gives birth to Kvido during a sendup of “Waiting for Godot” at the Klub Absurdum; Ales bumbles his way through life’s little trials, from a driving test to soccer matches.
When the Russian army invades Prague in 1968, Ales quits his government post for a small-town job away from scrutiny. But even here he finds that politics dictate life’s comfort level: Sans party membership, the family finds its new living quarters are merely the summer porch of a locked house. It takes Kvido to save the day, by orating a poem in praise of Lenin at school.
Toeing the line at work, Ales gets to go on foreign business trips, and even has a romantic dalliance. Meanwhile, Kvido pursues romance with his childhood sweetheart. When Ales is demoted to gatekeeper because of a latenight meeting with a dissident playwright, Milena suggests to Kvido that a grandchild would pull Pop out of his funk. The ruse works, but pic ends on an ironic note.
The dialogue by scripter Jan Novak (co-writer with Milos Forman of “Valmont”) captures the witty essence of novelist Michal Viewegh’s black comedy, though the pic often falls short on the visual side: The leads’ makeup, for instance, barely ages them over nearly 30 years, stretching credibility. Otherwise, tech credits are workmanlike and solid, in line with Nikolaev’s directing.