Funny, lighthearted and surprisingly whimsical, “Heartbreak Hotel” is the best film by Swedish-based writer-director Colin Nutley since his 1990 small-town drama, “Black Jack.” Bolstered by top perfs from Helena Bergstrom and Maria Lundkvist, as two divorcees who become bosom pals, effort is both highly entertaining and sticks to the ribs afterward. Pic should reap a rich harvest at local wickets and offshore sales look promising, given the story’s universal themes.
On the way to her son’s wedding, Elisabeth (Bergstrom), who is going through a divorce from husband Henrik (Johan Rabaeus), gets into a heated argument with parking attendant Gudrun (Lundkvist) that ends with them hurling expletives at each other.
Gudrun lives alone with her teen daughter, Liselotte (Erica Braun), who tells her mom she spends too much time alone at home in front of the TV. When Gudrun complains about a stomach ache, Liselotte books an appointment with her gynecologist — Elisabeth. After an initial tense first minutes, Gudrun and Elisabeth start to warm to each other.
Elisabeth takes Gudrun to a dance club, Heartbreak Hotel, where she’s a regular, and after some initial reluctance Gudrun takes a liking to it — much to the horror of Liselotte, who one night finds her mother very drunk and very active on the dance floor. Encounters with both men and women follow, some funny, some sad. But they all help to glue Elisabeth and Gudrun together.
However, Henrik wants to get back together with Elisabeth, and Gudrun’s ex, Ake (Claes Mansson), turns up after many years, causing Elisabeth to feel jealous.
One of Nutley’s few films to clock in at under two hours, “Heartbreak Hotel” unfolds briskly, with no lingering over landscapes. Replacing the director’s regular lenser, Jens Fischer, relatively unknown d.p. Olof Johnson paints Stockholm in warm, lush colors, evoking the sensuality of Stockholm in summertime.
Both Bergstrom (Nutley’s wife and regular lead actress) and Lundkvist are at the top of their game, in total control of what they are doing and acting out their characters’ humor and pain. The scene where Elisabeth yells at Liselotte, defending the 40-plus Gudrun’s right to have a good time, is one of her best in a long time.
Male thesps don’t make as much impact, but it isn’t their film. Even the songs on the soundtrack are all by female singers and songwriters.