“Nothing’s so bad that it can’t get worse,” opines one of the Icelandic trailer-park habitues in “King’s Road,” though this agreeably quirky sophomore feature from editor-turned-helmer Valdis Oskarsdottir offers only scant proof that this maxim is indeed correct. The montage maestro of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” among others, here reunites with many of the local actors of her directorial debut, “Country Wedding,” and offers further evidence that she’s a name to watch in the arthouse-light subgenre. This unthreatening comedy-drama will find a nice niche in ancillary, though its lack of technical finesse might hamper theatrical prospects.
Thirtysomething Junior (Gisli Orn Gardarsson) has returned to Iceland from Germany after several years, with a mysterious German acquaintance, Rupert (Daniel Bruehl), in tow. Junior hopes his dad, the aptly named Senior (Sigurdur Sigurjonsson), might help him out financially, though the new villa of the former multimillionaire and full-time embezzler turns out to be a tiny mobile home in a trailer park at the end of the eponymous road.
Senior’s new wife (Nanna Kristin Magnusdottir), a former beauty queen, and Junior’s grandmother (Kristbjorg Kjeld), who carries a stuffed seal around as a low-maintenance pet, complete the crackpot family picture. However, they hardly qualify as the weirdest inhabitants of this Nowheresville trailer park, which is overseen by oft-furious, always-uptight janitor BB (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson).
Pic could function as a cautionary tale on where and how corrupt bankers might end up as a result of the worldwide financial crisis, but it works just as well as simply an offbeat yarn about life among the country’s lower (and wackier) classes.
Though there are few belly laughs, the nonsense that dominates the lives of this bunch of oddballs is more often chuckle-inducing. The film’s sense of humor is most clearly evidenced in the scenes involving the park’s pedestrian crossing, manned by three locals and apparently only crossed whenever a lone car approaches.
Actors are all game, suggesting either an emotional permafrost or quiet desperation underneath their characters’ stone-faced appearances. The chameleonic Gardarsson (“Children”) again delivers one of the most memorable turns (as well as the film’s best line, about how all Icelanders are connected). Spanish-German thesp Bruehl (“Good Bye Lenin!”) is adequate, but the scribe-helmer never capitalizes on his position as an outsider in the way Victoria Abril’s character in “101 Reykjavik” threw the idiosyncratic nature of a largely closed island community into relief.
Oskarsdottir shows her editing chops here, nimbly switching among the intersecting stories of the dozen or so protags. However, because”King’s Road” is more interested in its generally offbeat atmosphere and unconnected drolleries rather than character development — which would be odd, since these people’s lives are stagnant — the pic struggles to fully maintain audience attention throughout its 105-minute running time.
Digital lensing by Icelandic vet Bergsteinn Bjorgulfsson, working with the Red camera, is generally crisp, despite the deliberately faded color palette. Unfortunately, direct sources of light in the darkest scenes still pose a problem (a nighttime bonfire, for example, is reduced to a flickering white hole onscreen). Sound work is adequate, but a simple stereo output limits its impact. Soundtrack is filled with tunes from local names Lay Low and the Sugarcubes.