Review by Chris Heller
Rating: (4 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!]
Friday, 10/14/2011, 5:00 PM
Feature presentation, $12 at Globe Theatre
WHAT DO YOU call a movie with a former porno girl, a Norwegian television star, and the cold, rolling plains of Kansas? Pretty decent, if you’re into light family dramas.
Au Pair Kansas, written and directed by J.T. O’Neal, totters on an odd premise from time to time, but steadies itself with a warm heart and stellar cinematography from Marco Fargnoli.
After her husband (Stephen O’Mahoney) dies of melanoma, Helen (Traci Lords) is left to manage both her two sons and the family’s buffalo ranch on her own. But she’s got some unresolved marital issues: Her gay hubby, whose ghost now talks to her, only settled down with her to have children, and the kids know. Cue Oddmund, (Håvard Lilleheie), a soccer-loving, male au pair from Sweden who Helen hires to help take the load off.
Lilleheie, who O’Neal plucked from Norwegian small-screen stardom for Au Pair Kansas, plays the foreign oaf with a lovable charm. He’s always naively smiling, winning over suspicious Midwestern folk with his sincerity and cultural misunderstandings. And, like any middle-of-nowhere town in these kinds of movies, there are plenty of other quirky figures hanging around: an art teacher who wears drag (Oscar Quintero), a flirtatious gym teacher (Peter Murnik), and a lesbian cop (Cher Ferreyra). Sure, O’Neal plumbs character tropes more often than not, but the move works.
And that’s ultimately, what makes Au Pair Kansas a fun movie to watch. It knows what it is — an airy look at a troubled family — and rightfully avoids anything with too much emotional heft. Its sugary resolution may not be to everyone’s taste, but as a family comedy, it goes down smooth.