Lead player Gethin Anthony is so thoroughly convincing as an obnoxious boor throughout the first third of “Copenhagen” that he is hard-pressed to generate a rooting interest in his character when the film really needs him to do so. Mark Raso’s handsomely crafted, VOD-appropriate indie belongs to the “brief encounter” subgenre of melancholy romancers, with Anthony’s belligerent Canadian sourpuss making fleeting contact with a local waitress (Frederikke Dahl Hansen) while tracing his family roots in the titular city. But even as the couple uncovers reasons why the cranky Canuck is so surly, “Copenhagen” remains more intriguing than compelling.
William arrives in Europe aiming to track down the grandfather he’s never met, to deliver a letter written years earlier by William’s late father. At first, he’s accompanied by Jeremy (Sebastian Armesto), quite possibly William’s last friend in the whole wide world, and Jennifer (Olivia Grant), Jeremy’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. But he drives them away early on with his loutish behavior and barely contained jealousy, leaving him alone in Copenhagen. That is, until he encounters Effy (Hansen).
William is typically obnoxious when they meet cute in a cafe — he’s an impatient customer, she’s a desultory waitress — but they eventually settle into the equivalent of a non-aggression pact as Effy agrees to serve as his guide and translator. With her help, William learns some rather unpleasant things about his grandfather, and some arguably more unpleasant things about why his grandmother and William’s father left Copenhagen in the first place. Of course, the longer they’re together, the less off-putting William becomes, and the more irresistible Effy appears.
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Trouble is, William is 28. And Effy is, quite literally, half his age.
Some viewers will be understandably squeamish as the inevitable question arises: Will they or won’t they? To his credit, writer-director Raso provides an answer that is both emotionally and dramatically satisfying. Better still, he gets a pitch-perfect performance from Danish up-and-comer Hansen, who greatly impresses with her unaffected spontaneity, playing Effy as both precociously wise and tremulously vulnerable.
The relationship at the heart of “Copenhagen” might be far more successful at actually warming hearts if it weren’t so familiar — the movie repeatedly strikes faint echoes of “Lost in Translation,” even to the point of including a karaoke sequence — and if Anthony weren’t so convincing as a misanthropic SOB.
One is tempted to speculate that Raso, here making his feature debut, deliberately set a challenge for himself, much the same way Alfred Hitchcock did by limiting the action in “Rope” and “Lifeboat,” or the makers of “The Blair Witch Project” did with their found-footage shtick. Could it be that Raso wanted to see if he could make a love story in which one of the leads is, for much of the running time, conspicuously unlovable? If so, his experiment can only be viewed as, at best, only partially successful.