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Emma and Joel find each other to be the perfect match, after each is dumped by their partners on the same day. Emma discovers she is pregnant and ends up taking care of Joel's mother while he goes off on tour to conduct around the world. Pregnancy, a crazy mother-in-law, trust and loyalty test the couple to make the right decisions.
The debut feature film of Finnish director Lauri Nurkse, Playing Solo tells the story of three individuals who are just that - selfish people who have to learn how to change themselves in order to live with one another. Based on the novel by Katja Kallio, it brings to mind the constant tussle in the modern world of how one can be so easily caught up with work, that relationships often take a back seat, for better or worse.
We have Emma Huilu (Saija Lentonen), a reporter in a long distance relationship that recently ended, and in a stroke of luck from an occupational hazard, gets to meet possibly the sexiest orchestra conductor alive in Joel Abrahamsson (Lari-Pekka Toivonen) to conduct a last minute interview. Needless to say, sparks fly immediately, they go on a whirlwind romance, and before you know it, he soon loads her up with his personal problem - that of taking care of his aged mom Lea (Kristiina Elstela) who is beyond control in the nursing home's she put up in.
The character of Joel is your typical alpha-male type whose jet-setting career and reputation puts him in the clear path of temptation, and how he battles that would naturally have repercussions in his relationship with Emma. Toivonen plays this role with ease because of his stature and good looks, and exudes enough pathos given the frustrations of his childhood and his difficult mom. We think that he's the poor victim here when we see how he gets dumped by a pregnant ex-girlfriend, but there's more than meets the eye to this handsome man.
Saija Lentonen on the other hand had a deeper role to play, though nothing unexpected since we see a strong, independent woman succumb to being needy, and you're likely to feel that she had made a number of missteps and was being blatantly silly. But then love is blind, and you would like to trust the best in your partner, though ultimately I still think that the finale didn't do the story, and her character, justice at all.
Stealing the show every step of the way is of course Kristiina Elstela as the strong-willed mom who doesn't accept any nonsense from anyone. Clearly missing her son who's never emotionally there for her, much of the comedy stems from her razor sharp wit. With Joel being out of the picture for the most part, the story then takes on the spin of bonding amongst women, who between them at first was full of animosity, but nothing beats some earnestness in holding out that olive leaf. Both have lessons for each other, and their dynamics brought to life by the actresses are one of the key highlights of the film.
And there's a particular scene which I enjoyed, as it dealt with the notion of time, devotion and returns. It brought about the thought of having to understand someone, a stranger perhaps, in order to have some form of meaningful conversation. But like in many scenes which involve Joel, life in itself is one where it's easy to take things for granted, and usually we devote time to pursuits which translate to economic gains, rather than to spend that same amount of time, or even a quality fraction of it, with the people we love, just to understand them a little bit more, and to spend time because we simply want to.
Playing Solo reinforces the reminder that there should always be time to stop and smell the roses, and that family should always come first. It's true that we sometimes cannot stand the little idiosyncrasies of loved ones, but ultimately we should never take things for granted, and nobody should be flying solo in his or her lifetime. This comedy-romance comes recommended for that theme alone, despite an ending that I just couldn't agree with completely.
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