You take the cute with the not-nearly-so-cute in the Swedish rom-com “Off Track,” titled “Ur spår” in ABBAland.
It’s about a coupling or two, and people destined to bump into each other at the annual cross country Swedish ski race, “The Vasa,” or “Vasaloppet,” And one way you can tell this film was meant for domestic consumption is the lack of explanation of that race, its place in Swedish history and lore and connection to Gustav Vasa, the king regarded as The Founder of Modern Sweden.
Let me just say, Swedes, that no American film would use say, the Iditarod as a backdrop and not explain the race’s historic origins. And when your movie’s as pokey and slow as this one, there’s no sense arguing “We didn’t have time.”
Lisa (Katia Winter) is a newly-divorced drunk whom we meet in the early stages of a bender at a bar known for being the pick-up spot for divorcees. Actually, she’s so clumsy and tipsy that she’s shown up at the bar next door to the bar sure to get her “laid laid LAID.”
She will be hit on by younger men, whom she insults, and get so blasted she gets tossed (and injured) by a bouncer, only to wind up in the drunk tank. A very tolerant cop (Ulf Stenberg) takes her home the next day because she’s supposed to pick up her kid (Kelly Flogell) for shared custody time.
In just that one scene, we see her irresponsibility, her cavalier entitlement (treating a cop like a chauffeur) and lax child-rearing.
It’s no wonder that child welfare is on her case in a flash. An unasked and unanswered question might be “Who ratted her out?” The ex (Peter Perski) or the cop? That matters because the policeman figures further in our story.
A laundry accident wrecks her apartment, which is how she ends up staying with her personal trainer/skier brother Daniel (Fredrik Hallgren). He and his wife (Rakel Wärmländer) are secretly making every effort to have a baby. But he’s also training for another run in the Vasa, so that’s adding to their stress.
With child welfare breathing down her neck, no visible means of support, “depressed” and about to lose custody, Lisa decides her way out of rock bottom is the ski the race, too. And sobering up.
Meanwhile, policeman Anders (Stenberg) has learned from his jerk brother that he’s been drafted to be the one who will accompany their competitive but older and just-had-a-heart-attack mother (Chaterarina Larsson) in her attempt to achieve “legend” status by racing the Vasa one more time.
The race is, of course, the climax of the movie. But it’s woven into the film in a way that implies everybody does it, “like a cult” as Lisa says. Her brother, his wife, even her social worker are skiing it.
Lisa? She’s the only Swede who doesn’t know how to “snowplow” to a stop.
Maria Karlsson’s script tries to slow-juggle a lot of balls in the air for this comedy — fertility clinic visits and arguments over hormone shots and sperm delivery, an alcoholic trying to sober up, a cop bullied into things by his older sibling, a neglected child not all that happy staying with dad, and so on.
There’s little pace to it all, but there are flashes of wit that show us what director Mårten Klingberg could have gotten out of this with clever editing and maybe streamlining the script before shooting.
Fortyish Daniel is so into the ski training that he hires a cabbie (Leif Andrée) who delivers his sperm sample — yes, we see Daniel uh “create” that sample — insisting the guy keep it “warm” by stuffing the bottle down his pants as he drives kilometers and kilometers to the clinic where wife Klara angrily waits.
Lisa meets Anders at the race site, and neither can figure out how they met.
Anders’ aged mother won’t wait for him to catch up, “used the wrong wax” she hisses when asked where the slowpoke is.
And at the pre-race warmup for the mob of skiers awaiting their 90 kilometer test, their limbering up calisthenics are choreographed to the PA system blasting “Hooked on a Feeling.” Remember the “ooogah chugga” band that recorded that? Blue Swede.
Maybe this film played as quick and warm and fun in Sweden. But for me it just lumbered and stumbled along. Perhaps Klingberg, seen on skis in the closing credits, used the wrong wax?
Rating: TV-14, adult sexual conversations
Cast: Katia Winter, Fredrik Hallgren, Rakel Wärmländer, Ulf Stenberg, Chatarina Larsson, Peter Perski, Kelly Flogell and Leif Andrée
Credits: Directed by Mårten Klingberg, scripted by Maria Karlsson. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:48