New to Netflix from today is the Swedish romantic teen drama, JJ+E. The movie is based on the novel, Vinterviken, by Mats Wahl, and tells the story of two teenagers from different social and cultural backgrounds, who fall in love and develop a relationship.
Directed by Alexis Almström, JJ+E stars Mustapha Aarab, Elsa Ӧhrn, and Jonay Pineda Skallak. The film follows the story of John-John, a teenage boy who lives in a poorer part of town, but falls for a girl called Elisabeth, who lives across the bay in a more affluent neighbourhood.
In the movie, John-John is a good-natured teenager, who lives with his mother and her partner. He spends his days hanging around with his mates, trying his best to stay out of trouble, and dreams of one day becoming an actor.
One afternoon while out with his friends, John-John is persuaded by his best mate, Sluggo, to hop in a stolen boat for a cruise around the bay. Reluctantly he agrees, and the pair travel across the water to the other side of town.
But what starts off as a joyride soon turns into a rescue mission, when a young girl has an accident in the water. Without giving it a second thought, John-John rushes to the rescue and saves the young girl’s life.
Grateful to John-John for his bravery, the girl’s father invites John-John and Sluggo back to his house to get some dry clothes. It is here, while waiting in the house, that John-John catches the eye of the man’s other daughter, Elisabeth, who he instantly becomes smitten with.
A short while later, John-John discovers he has been given the opportunity to attend drama school. But he quickly learns that attending drama school has an additional benefit – Elisabeth is a fellow student.
Over the coming days, John-John and Elisabeth get to know each other and a romance begins to blossom. However, despite John-John’s desire to walk a new path in life, he finds himself continually pulled back to the community he is from, which could scupper his new relationship.
If all of the above sounds vaguely familiar it’s possible that you have watched the 1996 movie, Vinterviken, which was the previous adaptation of Mats Wahl’s novel. Failing that, the other reason for the familiarity is because you have heard the poor boy/rich girl love story before, because let’s be honest, who hasn’t?
But before you come to the conclusion that you’ve seen and heard this story countless times and this movie is probably not worth 90-minutes of your time, drive those thoughts out of your mind, because JJ+E is a delightful little movie that you should see. It is a beautifully told tale about love and life, which is smile-inducing, heart-breaking, truly excellent and indicative of the sort of movie Netflix should be adding to its service more regularly.
JJ+E is a story about a young guy, doing his best to move on from the social and economic restrictions that have shaped his early years. The movie touches upon the harsh realities of growing up from a poorer background, while dealing with the highs and lows of a budding romance.
The film looks at loyalty and brotherhood, at class and snobbery, and at the dangers that young teens face when theft and violence is all they know. It shows the difference that can be made with a simple sidestep into a new social sphere, while also highlighting that ‘a simple sidestep’ isn’t always possible for everyone.
At the heart of the movie is a love story between John-John and Elisabeth, which sees the two teens come together despite everything that is going on around them. Sure, their journey is nothing new, but it is perfectly handled by a director who knows how to bring emotion to the screen, and by two leads who understand their characters inside and out.
The movie also contains an ongoing thread about John-John’s relationship with his best friend, Sluggo. This thread, which weaves its way through the narrative, demonstrates the bond between the two friends and highlights the different paths they find themselves on.
All-in-all, there is a lot going on in this movie, even though on the surface it might just look like another teen drama. But it’s not another teen drama – JJ+E is a carefully considered, well executed picture.
What I liked most about JJ+E was the way in which the film made me care about John-John. Early into the movie, the story makes it clear he is a good person who just wants to do the right thing, but he is a person who finds himself trapped by his social background.
Could he make better choices? Arguably there are times where he could, yet this never changes the fact that he has a good heart.
At every opportunity throughout this movie, I wanted his relationship with Elisabeth to flourish. I became emotionally invested in his life, and while I am more than aware this is all a piece of fiction and John-John doesn’t exist, I am still thinking about him as I type out these words.
I want to know what happens with John-John and Elisabeth after the film has finished? I want to know where their story goes next?
It’s questions like these which demonstrate how connected I became with the material. This is a movie which captured my attention, and made me care – which is not bad going for an ol’ curmudgeon like me, who has a heart of stone.
JJ+E is a movie which I adored. It has a lot going for it – from great visuals to a superb soundtrack – but most important of all, it contains a story with depth.
Netflix has been adding some lacklustre content to its service as of late (Fear of Rain, Aftermath, Black Island, etc), but JJ+E proves there are still gems to be found, if you look hard enough. It is a small-scale offering, with plenty to say, and I suggest you take a look.