A bookworm learns to turn in sparky Norwegian coming-of-age comedy “The Liverpool Goalie.” The story of a shy, frightened 13-year-old facing down a bully, debut feature by commercials director Arild Andresen is rich in warmth and slightly salty humor, but modest in scope. Pic played like gangbusters to young auds at the Berlinale, where it won the top prize from the children’s jury for the Generation section, but only did so-so biz domestically when it opened in October 2010. Away matches will be confined to ancillary markets, especially TV. The accessible, easily translatable script could easily be remade.
Middle-school teenage suburbanite Jo Idstad (Ask van der Hagen) lives with his widowed mom Else (Andrine Saether, “Junk Mail”) somewhere near Oslo. Ever since Jo’s dad died a couple of years ago (shown slipping in the shower, in a blackly comic flashback), overprotective Else has frightened Jo out of doing anything dangerous, including soccer. Like all his other friends, studious Jo is an avid collector of international soccer-player cards; everyone wants to get his hands on the rarest — the one showing Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Manuel Reina.
Jo’s thuggish classmate Tom Erik (Jostein Skranes Brox) has coerced Jo into regularly doing his homework for him, a chore that eats considerably into Jo’s spare time. But when a new girl, pretty and clever Mari (Susanne Boucher), arrives at school, Jo begins to feel the need to develop more assertiveness. When a Liverpool goalie card falls into his hands, he finally sees a way out.
Although the pic runs a trim, unflagging 87 minutes, it packs in a couple more subplots, including Else’s comic attempts to hide an affair with neighbor Steinar (Kyrre Hellum). Jo can always tell when his mom’s been with Steinar because the back of her frizzy hair gets mussed up — the sort of sexually frank but funny detail only Scandi filmmakers would put in a pic largely aimed at kids.
Helmer Arild Andresen directs efficiently, and has a nifty way with slyly inserted sequences that seem plausible at first before revealing an inevitable twist. The young ensemble, particularly van der Hagen, display fine comic timing that never seems too schooled.
Tech credits are sunny, bright and naturalistic, but with a slightly cheap made-for-TV look.