It doesn't take much, apparently, to get a state-subsidized apartment and a monthly stipend out of the Norwegian government. Being a middle-aged virgin would appear to be enough of a disability -- at least according to "Elling," a charming but slight comedy about a pair of odd-couple wards of the state whose handicaps (mostly unspecified, save for the aforementioned condition) prevent their living on their own.
Okay, okay, so one of them, a filthy, long-haired giant named Kjell Bjarne (Sven Nordin) also has a bit of a hygiene problem, and the other, the titular Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen) is an agoraphobic mama's boy with an aversion to answering the phone. Elsewhere (say, England, for instance), I wonder whether these impairments wouldn't be looked upon as mere eccentricities, and mild ones at that.
Be that as it may, in the film from theater director Petter Naess, adapted by screenwriter Axel Hellstenius from Ingvar Ambjornsen's best-selling novel, Elling and his roomie (who, like Charlie Brown, is always referred to by his first and last name) find themselves in a modest Oslo apartment after being released from a period of institutionalization. A period, I might add, during which they seem not to have been given any therapeutic help whatsoever.
Just shopping brings on panic attacks for Elling, a squirrelly elf of a man given to poetry and with a penchant for telling Kjell Bjarne sexual tall tales as they drift off to sleep in their adjacent single beds. A social worker (Jorgen Langhelle) stops by periodically to yell at his charges in what must be some form of Scandinavian tough love, but offers little in the way of concrete guidance.
Left pretty much to their own devices, Elling and Kjell Bjarne gradually begin to engage with the outside world. Elling is soon befriended by an elderly poet (Per Christensen) he meets at a reading at a bar, and he is soon slipping his verse into packages of sauerkraut at the local market. Kjell Bjarne, meanwhile, enters into an awkward but touching romance with a pregnant neighbor (Marit Pia Jacobsen).
-- Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post Staff Writer