- Product Rating -

Art House Asshole : Tom of Finland

| December 15, 2017

Do you ever want to feel artistically superior to all of your friends? Maybe you are tired of your friends talking about how great the latest action film is and want to sound better. Maybe you want to impress your date with obscure film trivia. Maybe you think that knowing a lot about film history and art will somehow validate your meaningless existence and will replace that ever-growing pit in your heart that tells you that you don’t matter and no one cares about you. Well, don’t worry! Because I watch a bunch of art house films and can give you recommendations on what to watch and what to feel superior about! So without any delay, let’s get pretentious!

I consider tone to be one of the most important things in a film. I can look past poorly lit cinematography. I can excuse subpar performances. Hell, even piss poor writing I can look the other way. But if a film has an inconsistent tone, that can be difficult for me to ignore. And an inconsistent tone becomes deadly when it is partnered with pacing issues. And unfortunately, where I think Tom of Finland is something that I find fascinating, these two issues are present and difficult for me to look past.

Tom of Finland is the latest film from Finnish Director, Dome Karukoski, who I have never heard of and if I haven’t heard of him or his work, most likely neither have you. If you are aware of Dome Karukoski’s work, or you are Dome Karukoski, Hello! It’s nice to meet you! Sorry for insulting you right off the bat of this review! That was pretty shitty of me to do! Tom of Finland follows the true story of Touko Laaksonen, a Finnish artist known primarily for his homoerotic fetish art, which was highly illegal at the time in Finland.

Now, if you know me, you know gay dudes are right up my alley. I flock to gay dudes on screen as faster than my girlfriends question my sexuality. So when I walked into this film, I was predicting a movie of the year or something like that. But the first problem I ran into with this film was the fact that this film moves at a snail’s pace. The film covers a lot of ground. From the Winter War in 1939 to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. And usually, when a film covers that much ground, I tend to think that the pacing goes to quick. But somehow in Tom of Finland, a film that is just shy of two hours feels like twenty years. Cards on the table, I think I dosed off for a couple of minutes in the beginning because it takes its sweet time to get to the meat and potatoes of the story. The film doesn’t have any focus on Touko’s potential struggle with masculinity or questioning his sexuality, which are pretty standard themes in LGBT films. From the beginning of the film, Touko’s seems to have a pretty strong grasp on the fact that he is gay and is pretty accepting of that. The struggle he faces is less with him being gay and more with the fact that the world doesn’t accept that. Which is great! The problem is that the struggle doesn’t happen for what feels like forever.

The other problem I had with the film was this constant shift in tone. Because as much as the film is about Touko trying to succeed as a homoerotic artist, it is also about his struggle with PTSD from the Winter War. To the point where it makes this statement about one of his most famous characters in his art being modeled after a man that he killed in War. Both the struggling artist storyline and the PTSD storyline work if you view them separately. But the tone of each story is very different from one another. The artist storyline is filled with leather bars and muscular happy gay men in California. Where the PTSD is a dark, unsettling storyline in the winter with haunting images and hallowing scenery. This could have been an interesting contrast, but the real issue is that the two never seem to come together. They just kind of exist on their own, and neither concludes. Although Touko Laaksonen has now passed, and there should be some be some closure, there doesn’t seem to be any in the film.

The positives of the film do start with the acting. The film is very well performed with Pekka Strang playing Touko. Later in the story, Touko meets two Americans who help him with his work in the United States, and both of them are played well too. None of the performances is anything to write home about, but they are worth briefly mentioning in this review, so you know that the film does have some positives.

In general, the film is pretty average at its core, beyond the pacing and the tonal shifts throughout, there is nothing really awful about this film. But there is also nothing that really blew me away either. I wanted to like this film more than I did. And I certainly didn’t hate it. But it just left me feeling kind of unfulfilled. If you already are a fan of Tom of Finland and his work, I would check it out because, at its heart, the story is interesting. But if you aren’t a fan of his work or don’t really care for this kind of story, this film won’t be able to sway you the other way.

About the Author:

Henry Jarvis is the youngest member of the Reel Nerds. His favorite films include Space Jam and Dude, Where’s My Car? and Lawrence of Arabia. He enjoys those pretentious art house films that Ryan hates. He sees a lot of movies! Honestly more than he should. He replaces his lack of social skills and meaningful friendships with his love of cinema! He’s also crying while he writes this biography for himself. His favorite directors are Andrei Tarkovsky, David Fincher, and David Lean.
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