Doing for the ice-rink-based sport of curling what “Kingpin” did for bowling or “Dodgeball” did for … er, dodgeball, raucous Norwegian laffer “King Curling” reps a hilarious take on the mock-heroic sporting-underdog genre. Pic throws a spotlight mostly on massive local comedy star Atle Antonsen, who co-wrote and stars as a champ who must overcome odds to win a crucial match, but co-writer-helmer Ole Endresen ensures the rest of his skilled cast all get a chance to score laughs. Made with pro polish, pic is funny enough, even in translation, to travel beyond Norway, where it’s put up high B.O. numbers.
Early action is set about 10 years ago, though the mix of 1970s and ’80s fashions and soundtrack choices confuse the issue somewhat. Oslo native Truls Paulsen (Antonsen) is the obsessively competitive captain of Norway’s top curling team, a sport that (for those who may not be of Scottish, Canadian or Scandinavian extraction) looks like a cross between bowling and darts. Truls’ team includes ladies’ man Marcus (Jon Oigarden), grumpy Espen (Jan Saelid) and workhorse Flemming (Steinar Sagen), along with Truls’ lifelong mentor, Gordon (Ingar Helge Gimle), as the team coach, and Truls’ wife, Sigrid (Linn Skaber), as the team’s one-woman entourage.
Unfortunately, due to obsessive-compulsive tendencies, Truls totally loses it during a match against afro-sporting archrival Stefan Ravndal (Kare Conradi) and his team, and ends up spending a decade in a mental hospital drugged up to his eyeballs. When he’s finally released into Sigrid’s care, he struggles to reintegrate into society, especially since he’s under strict orders not to even think about curling again. But when he hears that Gordon is dying in a hospital and only an expensive lung transplant will save him, Truls decides to reform the team for one last, lucrative match.
Screenplay utterly conforms to the traditional loser-to-winner story template, but as with a sonnet or a three-minute pop song, structural originality is never the point; it’s all in the details, the running gags and the timing. Pic deftly weaves in subplots and other elements — Espen’s frustrations with a noisy milkman, a support group composed of loonies, some misadventures with bird-watchers — that evoke Antonsen and Endresen’s roots in TV sketch comedy, as do the elegantly staged bouts of slapstick, such as a one-take tracking shot of Truls wreaking havoc in a hospital corridor.
Otherwise, the humor relies mainly on bathetic campiness, the characters intoning sentiments with tremendously earnest gravitas about the intrinsically silly-looking sport they worship. Consequently, few of the lines are funny on paper; it’s the way the thesps deliver them with such intensely straight faces that puts the material across. The ensemble is uniformly excellent; Antonsen, strapping but perfectly ordinary in appearance, is a standout, along with Skaber, both perky and menacing as his frustrated, slightly demented spouse.
Production design and costumes deploy the palette of hot pastels and lurid colors needed to evoke the right degree of Nordic kitsch. Lensing by Askild Vik Edvardsen utilizes widescreen framing to full comic effect, while editing by Per Erik Eriksen keeps things ticking beautifully.