This Swedish film takes place during WWII. It follows a boy named Simon and his family. Simon loves nature and is obsessed with reading. His dad thinks it’s weird that he doesn’t play with other kids and wants him to teach him how build things in his garage rather than go to school. But his mother lets him go to school and Simon meets a Jewish boy named Isak. The 2 become friends. When Isak’s mom gets checked into an institution after setting their house on fire, Isak’s father asks Simon’s parents to take Isak in, since he’s too busy. Even though they aren’t affected too much by anything that happens during the war, it still affects them emotionally. That’s the first half, the second half shows how Simon grows closer to Isak’s father, and Isak grows closer to Simon’s father. It spans over several years so we see the 2 boys grown up. There’s also a subplot involving Isak’s dad in love with Simon’s mom.
There is a lot of plot here. And that’s the main problem. What starts off as an intriguing coming-of-age story, ends up being a convoluted movie with too many characters having problems. It’s called SIMON and the Oaks, right? Not SIMON, HIS MOM, HIS DAD, HIS FRIEND ISAK, ISAK’S DAD AND THE OAKS. It’s too much. The story is unfocused and by the end turns a bit too cerebral.
I did like the first 20 minutes, which focused primarily on Simon. I loved the shot of him throwing the stone at the Oak tree. It’s this kind of whimsy and style that I wish the whole movie had. Instead, we get a pretty generic story about a family torn up by secrets. In fact, by the time we reach the 30 minute mark, Simon turns into a supporting character with everyone else getting the limelight. That would’ve been okay, but the movie starts off as Simon’s story, then about 90 minutes in, it goes back to Simon when he’s a young adult, but I felt disconnected to him cause I never felt like I got to know him. His character just looks somber and stares at everyone for most of the movie. That’s NOT how characterization is supposed to work.
I guess the acting is fine, but good acting doesn’t mean anything when you’re not sure which character is supposed to be the focus of the story. And the characters are pretty stock anyway. We’ve seen all of this before. The direction is all right as there is some good cinematography, but the scattershot screenplay drags everything that’s good about the movie down. I especially thought the second half was even more jumbled. It was a bit of a mess as Simon starts having sex and has relationships. And when the hell did Isak get married? Everything happens without momentum.
I’m not sure if there is an audience for this movie. Maybe pretentious film students who love foreign films because it makes them feel sophisticated. I do think there is a good movie here, they just needed to focus on Simon and show what was happening through his eyes. But instead the movie tries to do too much, and I couldn’t invest in anyone. I checked out long before the movie was over. ★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Not rated but contains some language and sexuality/nudity.
– Running time: 1hr 57min.