Review: "JJ+E"

First love, especially an impossible one, always makes for compelling material, as do the contrasts this film's urban European setting allows for.


From the opening scenes of Swedish drama JJ+E, we see the socioeconomic gap the film works to emphasize at every turn.

A young blonde woman floats in her family's infinity pool high above the bay as a brown-skinned, floppy-haired teenager cruises graffiti-speckled city streets with his tough-looking buddies before leaping off a concrete wall into the other side of the bay.


While these somewhat clichéd portrayals could have felt empty, the young actors -- particularly Mustapha Aarab as John-John and Jonay Pineda Skallak as his dodgy friend Sluggo -- bring soul and energy to them. Elsa Ohrn's Elisabeth feels more distant, which matches her character's background and grieving process, but makes her harder to warm to.

The film builds as a typical, somewhat predictable teen romance until Sluggo's violent life encroaches on the couple's future. This was to be expected, as John-John's home life and friend group are given a lot more prominence than Elisabeth's throughout the movie. His diverse gang from the projects is depicted as rough-edged but loyal and tight-knit, and there's tension in seeing John-John perpetually teeter the line between good student and criminal.


A night on the town with the group lets the camera see the two sides of Stockholm through their very different inhabitants' eyes. It's clear the romance was doomed on its own, especially considering Elisabeth's world's shallow dismissal of John-John, so the film's overly violent ending wasn't entirely necessary.

Read the full review at Common Sense Media.