Review: Tom of Finland Scratches the Surface

Written by | Entertainment, Screen

Tom of Finland

Photo courtesy Protagonist Pictures

For the uninitiated, Tom of Finland will put you front and center at the moment Touko Laaksonen decided to become a the best known creator of gay erotic art ever.

Those hungry for a bit more could leave the cinema disappointed.

Yes, the film ticks all the right boxes when it comes to showing audiences his early struggles with his own sexuality and the “dirty drawings” that would eventually turn him into an icon and his hypermasculine menagerie of bikers, cowboys and cops into stereotypes that would eventually give rise to everything from leather culture to the Village People.

As Laaksonen, Pekka Strang does a great job of chainsmoking and brooding, but somehow leaves something missing in his portrait of the artist. He’s clearly haunted by his World War II experience, attracted and awkward in his first forays into gay nightlife, and surprised how much of the world became entranced by the explicit images that tumbled from his hand.

Through his eyes, we see how Tom of Finland was born, but feeling that transition is a more difficult proposition. That the movie jumps around in time is also problematic, as the ’60s never seem to have happened here. The film jarringly vaults from the baggy pants and cocktail music of the 1950s into a disco soundtrack that tells us the ’70s are well underway, and AIDS makes such an early appearance that Tom of Finland suggests these were concurrent events, when there was nearly a decade between them.

Those hoping that the film will provide some of the erotic heat of Laaksonen’s work will also be left a little cold. There’s nudity in the first scene, and occasional glimpses of the artist’s more provocative pieces, but nothing that gets up close and personal.

At best, Tom of Finland is a fairly sanitized introduction to the artist’s work and appeal. Director Dome Karukoski has some pacing issues, and Aleksi Bardy’s screenplay, were it not for a few teasing shots of male anatomy and fleeting looks at Laaksonen’s art, could be a Lifetime movie script. Many will see this film and be glad for the blanks it does fill in, but the filmmakers’ skittishness lets you know: this could have been so much more.

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Last modified: November 8, 2017

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