Acclaimed shorts and TV commercials helmer Jens Jonsson makes a confident but mixed-bag move to features in “King of Ping Pong.” Part deadpan nerd comedy in the “Napoleon Dynamite” mode, part miserablist childhood saga a la “My Life as a Dog,” this isn’t quite funny or poignant enough to pull off either. Watchable but unsatisfying gambit’s travel outside Scandinavia is unlikely to stretch beyond fests. Pic won Sundance world cinema jury prizes for best dramatic feature and lensing.
Hulking, baby-faced teen Rille (Jerry Johansson) seems to have inherited his plus-sized mother’s (Ann-Sofie Nurmi) girth and mild nature, while little brother Erik (Hampus Johansson) evidently won their mostly absent oil rig worker dad’s (Georgi Staykov) genes — both are athletic, robust, brash and popular. Sole place Rille has clout is as Ping Pong coach at the local youth center. Dad returns — albeit not to mom — just as Rille starts thinking his real father might be ma’s milquetoast secret squeeze, shopkeeper Gunnar (Frederik Nilsson). These and other tensions gradually boil over, but a late switch from moderately off-kilter humor to a more serious tenor doesn’t work. Mixed pro/nonpro thesps are good; production’s design emphasis on gauzy pastels is more ugly than funny.