The Good Son (Hyvä Poika)
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Anyone who ever glances at the covers of the tabloids that line the checkout aisles at the grocery store knows that some celebrities can be a bit…temperamental. One week, they’re jetting to some tropical locale with their latest love; the next week, they’re seen brawling with their new ex at a bar in Hollywood. One day, they’re grinning and posing for the paparazzi; the next day, they’re plowing into photographers with their Bentley. In the chilling Finnish drama The Good Son (Hyvä Poika), director Zaida Bergroth explores the life and loves of a similarly volatile fictional actress—and the children who get caught up in the madness.

After her latest movie premiere ends in yet another scandal, actress Leila Manner (Elina Knihtilä) decides to get away to her summer home for some much-needed rest and relaxation with her two sons. While his mild-mannered little brother, Unto (Eetu Julin), wanders around with his video camera, happily capturing the local wildlife, teenager Ilmari (Samuli Niittymäki) is eager to spend the time alone with his mother.

Ever the social butterfly, Leila quickly gets sick of the solitude, so she invites a group of friends and admirers to keep her company. Unto is happy to entertain the crowd with his favorite bird calls, but as Leila starts cozying up to author Aimo (Eero Aho), Ilmari hovers nearby, ready to do whatever it takes to protect his mother from another bad relationship.

More than just another drama about the rollercoaster ride of celebrity, The Good Son adds a fascinating new twist: the brooding teenage son, who’s spent his life protecting and supporting his emotionally unstable single mother. Leila herself is an intriguing character—a whirlwind of mood swings, a mess of insecurities, and endlessly self-absorbed. And Knihtilä does an excellent job of presenting every last one of the character’s moods in vibrant color, whether she’s screeching at a stranger for snapping a picture without permission or playing happy hostess to her friends.

Ilmari, meanwhile, is like a skulking shadow, always just a step behind—eager to attend to her every whim, quietly begging for her approval. Throughout his entire life, Ilmari has been the one loyal member of Leila’s entourage: alternately her best friend, her bodyguard, her butler, and her therapist. Now, this trip to the summer house means everything to him—not because it means hanging out with the other kids at the beach but because it means that, for once, he’ll get his mother’s undivided attention. So when she invites her friends (because she’s so bored out there all alone), she begins to push her hopelessly devoted son over the edge.

Niittymäki’s brooding may sometimes remind you of a certain moody teen vampire (for better or for worse), but he gets the point across: Ilmari is not someone you want to mess with. There’s something dark lurking just beneath the surface—and the suspense slowly builds as viewers wait for it to break through.

As complex and intriguing as its ever-shifting star, The Good Son is a dark and captivating character-driven drama about family dysfunction. And the capable cast makes it even more scintillating than your favorite celebrity gossip mag.

Ed. Note: Kristin screened The Good Son at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. Be sure to check your local listings to find out if/when it’s coming to a theater near you.

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