Try as they might, even the best of story tellers don’t hit it out of the park every single time.
In a decidedly lighter effort (at least by Danish standards) The Commune tries to give us a sentimental social statement about the need for group living and the disassociation of modern society (or even the ridiculous costs of real estate in many urban centers) but it ends up as a very underdeveloped affair that is only saved by one genuine standout performance.
Erik and Anna (Ulrich Thomsen and Trine Dyrholm) are a professional couple with a dream. Along with their daughter Freja, they set up a commune in Erik’s huge villa in the upmarket district of Copenhagen. It’s an invite into the dream of a real commune where everyone supports and loves one another; everyone joins in at the house meetings to see how they are doing and discuss house business, they have dinners and parties and enjoy each other’s company. It is friendship, love and togetherness under one roof until an earth-shattering love affair puts the community and the commune to the ultimate test.
With a history of exploring some very serious and intense subjects, The Commune is a very uneven affair due to a very uneven script and a myriad of characters that really are the worst kind of people…the boring kind.
Vinterberg keeps his intimate style of filmmaking going here and it works well enough as we tell this story of a couple looking to expand and enrich their lives through the idea of a commune which is certainly very nice in principle but not always practical in actual practice. Kept mostly to the confines of the home and the streets in which these characters live there wasn’t any sort of marvelous visuals, there really didn’t need to be as this was such a character piece. The unfortunate part is that for a character piece you really need characters. While the dynamic between Erik and Anna was interesting there was simply no character development with the other characters and attempts to manufacture any kind of emotional response to house disputes about the beer intake and if they should get a dishwasher are just banal and shallow. While I’ll admit that might be the point of the script that Vinterberg wrote with frequent collaborator Tobias Lindholm it just feels flat as we are watching the paint dry on the lives of a bunch of boring assholes that don’t make for characters that you give a damn about while operating in the back ground.
Even the leading roles had some issues to it, as Ulrich Thomson’s Erik and his world weary academic is more than a little out to lunch as he leaves his wife, but doesn’t leave the commune only to sleep with his new lover; one of his third year students who bears a striking resemblance to his wife Anna. As Anna it really is Trine Dyrholm who keeps this movie from sinking into a quagmire of banality, as Thomson’s character is a sad sack asshole, Dyrholm rages against the machine as a TV news anchor who gets dismissed from her job and questions if she has the emotional or even physical strength to restart her life with Thomson’s Erik. She’s the only likeable character and one that we even want to root for but in spite of all that doesn’t make for a very compelling movie. For all these people living under one roof you’d expect more drama, and it just isn’t there.
Even as the film ends with the darkest happy ending ever, The Commune is more than a little unsettling because in all of this potential for drama, not much of anything ever really happened. Sure this is a group of people living life to the fullest and creating a support system for themselves which is a nice idea…until it isn’t and the cold realities of life get in the way. It tries to be a socially absorbing yarn about trying to hold on to the tenants of family and emotional support but ends up being a self indulgent messy affair like most families actually are.