Andreas Ohman’s “Simple Simon”, Sweden’s Oscar entry, successfully weaves Asberger’s Syndrome into a feel good comedy, without downplaying the challenges the syndrome presents. First time feature director-editor Ohman based his charming first film on his short “In Space There Are No Feelings” (“I rymden finns inga känslor”) using many of the same cast members.” Ohman plays a cameo as a clown in the film.
Inspired by Mark Haddon’s autism novel “The curious incident of the dog in the night”, Ohman studied Aspergers, developing his own habits for Simon’s character.
Simon (Stellan Skarsgard’s son Bill Skarsgard) shuts himself in a homemade space capsule whenever things get tough in the world. When his aggrieved parents kick him out he moves in with his older brother Sam (Martin Wallstrom) and girlfriend Frida (Sofie Hamilton). Protective Sam speaks his language, guiding Simon out of the capsule like a veteran of NASA’s Mission Control Center veteran.
Simon’s elaborate life plans are far from Simple and the surrounding characters show nuance as they attempt to fit themselves into his demanding schema. Unable to handle, change, spontaneous events or human emotion, Simon recreates the same day for himself. Simon eats a different round food item each day of the week, in rotation. At first Sam and dour Frida grapple with their robotic roommate, who irritatingly organizes each task on a circular master schedule. Bathroom visits are timed to the second, and Simon barges in on showering Frida when she goes over her allotted time. Every night he watches “2001: A Space Odyssey” on the big screen TV, exiling the bored couple to their bedroom. Tired of playing second fiddle to needy Simon, Frida snaps and dumps Sam.
Simon decides to hook him up with another gal pal, so his life can revert to its peaceful three-person flow chart. He studies all of Hugh Grant’s films and develops a questionnaire, which he foists on unsuspecting passing women. He even sells his prize drum kit to pursue his goals.
Literally bumping into fey Jennifer (Cecilia Forss) at a street corner, he befriends her in order to match-make, but things change halfway, and Simon finds himself stretching all his boundaries. A first drink and a game of Pictionary with Jennifer’s rowdy girlfriends begin his introduction to the chaotic real world.
Tyro writer-director Andreas Ohman’s whimsical script and adept way with actors keeps you engaged. It’s a star turn for Bill Skarsgard, who builds an unforgettable character whose can-do spirit is both exhausting and inspiring. Ohman, who has an animation studio, uses clever animated graphics to map Simon’s inner process and illustrate how he sees the world. Charts and happy Faces (over happy people) or unhappy faces (over sad people) appear over the images translating Simon’s worldview instantly.
Simon has a job as a grounds man at a Golf course. His co-workers and boss are another fertile ground for comic characters. What a shock for Simon to leave his organized apartment and encounter the fertile chaos of Jennifer’s apartment, with its overload of tchotchkes (and television sets) where everything seems to be full of sentimental value. Simon and Jennifer begin to bond. He speaks with robotic precision, she’s an animated Annie Hall babbler. Ohman gives us an ambivalent, hopeful open ending.
D.P Niklas Johansson often frames with the satiric proscenium style Wes Anderson borrowed from Hal Ashby. Andreas Ohman and Jonathan Sjoberg’s script, Sandra Lindgren’s witty production design and Casandra Cornelio’s costume design craft a theatrical whimsy also reminiscent of Wes Anderson.