You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Waltz for Monica’

Danish helmer Per Fly's glossy biopic of popular Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund quickly becomes a checklist of triumph-and-tragedy cliches.


Edda Magnason, Sverir Gudnason, Kjell Bergqvist, Vera Vitali, Cecilia Ljung, Nadja Chrstiansson, Johannes Wanselow, Oskar Thunberg, David Hellenius, Fredrick Lindborg, Jorgen Thorssen, Andrea Ager-Hanssen, Randal D. Ingram, Amelia Fowler, Clinton Ingram. (Swedish, English dialogue)

Glossy biopic “Waltz for Monica” dramatizes the life of popular Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund, who played a major role in popularizing jazz in Scandinavia and beyond from the late 1950s onward. While watchable enough, Danish helmer Per Fly’s feature quickly becomes a conventional checklist of showbiz triumph-and-tragedy cliches, with emphasis on the downside: failed relationships, egomania, insecurity, booze, pills, et al. There’s not much depth discernible to the glamorous blonde at center stage here, despite a game acting debut by singer-songwriter Edda Magnason. Theatrical exposure outside Nordic countries will likely be minor, though the pic could attract home-format sales elsewhere.

In a rather dreary central hook, the woman born Eva Monica Nilsson is introduced with the chip on her shoulder already fully developed: Single mother to Eva-Lena (Nadja Christiansson), she is forever berated and belittled by her narrow-minded father (Kjell Bergqvist) for frequently abandoning her parental duties and provincial hometown to pursue what he considers a pipe dream.

At first, he’s right: Working in what’s considered a purely American medium, Swedish jazz musicians are hard-pressed to scrape together a living. A hoped-for big break turns humiliating when Eva is fired from a Manhattan club gig, simply because patrons find the sight of a beautiful white woman performing with an all-black backup trio too sexually suggestive for their pre-civil-rights-movement sensibilities. During this brief visit she’s also dissed by idol Ella Fitzgerald, who tells her to “sing about your own life” rather than “pretending to be somebody else” via U.S. blues and jazz covers.

Popular on Variety

Returning home, Eva takes that prickly advice to heart, asking well-known poet Beppe Solgers (Johannes Wanselow) to pen song lyrics in Swedish despite her record label’s initial skepticism. While true-blue bassist Sture (Sverir Gudnason) pines patiently from the sidelines, she accumulates a long backlog of husbands and lovers — notably “I Am Curious (Yellow)” director Vilgot Sjoman (Oskar Thunberg) — who all eventually tire of her emotional neediness and out-of-control partying. Meanwhile, her fortunes continue to rise, growing to encompass legit-stage spectaculars, TV specials, film roles (though these go unmentioned, even her turns in Jan Troell’s celebrated diptych “The Emigrants” and “The New Land”), and collaborations with jazz greats including legendary pianist Bill Evans.

Nonetheless, she’s so “goddamn lonely,” painted here as a classic oversensitive narcissist who drives away the people who really do love her. (Rather nonsensically, thorn-in-her-side Dad continues belittling her prospects even once she’s become a major star.) It’s not clear whether Fly or scenarist Peter Birro intended the character to be so off-putting, but regardless, the result is a lack of rooting interest in a peevish princess whose bridge-burning inevitably invites bottom-hitting melodrama.

Pic ends on a pat, happy note, bidding Zetterlund adieu well before scoliosis made her later life painfully difficult. (She died in a 2005 apartment fire at age 67.) While scrambling chronology at times to suit a rather standard narrative course, the slick pic capably reproduces the styles of the eras covered, though the lack of much psychological depth means there’s not enough going on beneath the colorful surface. Magnason doesn’t lip-synch to the subject’s original tracks but provides her own effective, similarly smoky and elegant vocals.

Film Review: 'Waltz for Monica'

Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (competing), Aug. 28, 2013. Running time: 111 MIN. Original title: "Monica Z"


(Sweden) A Film i Vast, Sveriges Television and Svensk Filmindustri presentation in association with the Swedish Film Institute of a Stellanova Film production. (International sales: Svensk Filmindustri, Stockholm.) Produced by Lena Rehnberg. Co-producer, Thomas Gammeltoft.


Directed by Per Fly. Screenplay, Peter Birro. Camera (color, widescreen), Eric Kress; editor, Asa Mossberg; music, Peter Nordahl; music supervisor, Magnus Palmberg; production designer, Josefin Asberg; costume designer, Kicki Ilander; sound (Dolby 5.1), Tobias Ronnertz; sound designer, Hans Moller; assistant director, James Velasquez; casting, Linnea Roxeheim, Sara Tomkvist.


Edda Magnason, Sverir Gudnason, Kjell Bergqvist, Vera Vitali, Cecilia Ljung, Nadja Chrstiansson, Johannes Wanselow, Oskar Thunberg, David Hellenius, Fredrick Lindborg, Jorgen Thorssen, Andrea Ager-Hanssen, Randal D. Ingram, Amelia Fowler, Clinton Ingram. (Swedish, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Little Women

    Writers Infuse Serious WGA Awards Contenders 'Parasite,' 'Little Women,' 'Jojo Rabbit' with Humor

    This year’s crop of WGA-nominated adapted and original screenplays appears on the surface to be a grim lot. There’s war (“1917,” “Jojo Rabbit”), insidious homewreckers (“Parasite”), a Civil War-era coming-of age (“Little Women”) and an arch murder investigation (“Knives Out”), to name just a few of the nominated scripts. But here’s a surprise: Every one [...]

  • Cathy Yan Birds of Prey Director

    'Birds of Prey' Director Cathy Yan Reveals the Crucial Advice Patty Jenkins Gave Her

    Just months after Cathy Yan’s feature directing debut, Shanghai-set ensemble comedy “Dead Pigs,” made a big splash at Sundance in 2018, the Chinese-born filmmaker landed a gig helming a giant studio franchise movie, the DC Comics adaptation “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” starring Margot Robbie. Going straight from indie buzz [...]

  • Gloria Allred

    Gloria Allred Rips Apart Weinstein's Defense Team for 'Putting the Blame on Women'

    Shortly after Harvey Weinstein accuser Miriam Haley took the stand and testified that she was sexually assaulted by the fallen movie mogul over a decade ago, her attorney Gloria Allred ripped apart Weinstein’s defense team, speaking to press outside of the courthouse. During the six-hour testimony, Haley told the jury that Weinstein forcibly performed oral [...]

  • The Man Standing Next

    Korea Box Office: ‘Man Standing Next’ Dominates Holiday Weekend With $25 Million Haul

    Locally-made political drama, “The Man Standing Next” dominated the four-day Lunar New Year holiday weekend box office in South Korea. Opening on Wednesday (Jan. 22), the Showbox release earned $24.5 million from 3.23 million admissions over its opening six days. It accounted for more than 53% of the total holiday weekend box office. Set 40 [...]

  • The Last Thing He Wanted

    'The Last Thing He Wanted': Film Review

    Writer-director Dee Rees’ career continues to be a fascinating journey to follow. From her breakthrough feature debut, the soulful coming-of-age indie “Pariah,” to the Oscar-nominated literary adaptation “Mudbound,” the filmmaker has been confidently expanding her range with every new effort. That gutsy spirit is very much at the center of her latest, “The Last Thing [...]

  • Kobe Bryant Oscar Win Dear Basketball

    Kobe Bryant's Death Cuts Short a Promising Second Act in Entertainment

    In all things, Kobe Bryant was nothing if not exacting. He was driven, demanding and relentless in pursuit of greatness. His tragic death in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 at the age of 41, an accident that also took his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, means that the entertainment industry will never know what [...]

  • Liselott Forsman

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond CEO Liselott Forsman on 2020, a Record Budget, Growth

    The Nordisk Film & TV Fond is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a new CEO at the helm: Writer, producer and chair of the EBU Fiction Expert Group Liselott Forsman. This week, the executive heads to the Göteborg Film Festival as one of the event’s key figures. There, she will preside the Nordisk Film & [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content