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‘Tom of Finland’: A solid biopic that lacks focus

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Directed by Dome Karukoski, this Finnish film tells the real-life story of Touko Laaksonen, more famously known as Tom of Finland, one of the most important and influential gay icons of the 20th century. “Tom of Finland” effectively reveals Touko’s inner frustrations and accomplishments, but lacks the flow and emotional heft necessary to pack a bigger punch.

Touko Laaksonen was an artist who drew “homoerotic fetish art” in the latter half of the 20th century, and many of his works became staples of gay culture during that time. His work still inspires many to this day and the film really does a respectable job of showing the beauty and creativity that can stem from war-ridden, painful circumstances.

Karukoski does a decent job charting Tom’s illustrious life, wisely using Tom’s emotional and personal arcs, rather than the general events of his life, as the beating heart of the film. The film is also stylish and visually enriching, effectively placing its audiences in its locales, whether it be the claustrophobic, grungy environment of Finland, or the sunny and open California. “Tom of Finland” is at its strongest narratively when we are seeing Tom trying to wrestle with his environment and the true impact of his art. Pekka Strang, who brought a resounding balance of sensitivity and strength to the character, expressed Tom’s emotions in a more ambiguous, almost natural way that adds an interesting dimension.

That said, the film registers surprisingly cold and emotionally distant. It is too preoccupied with the bigger, more expansive themes of love and belonging that it sometimes forgets its titular character at the center. The timeline of the film also wasn’t expressed too clearly, jumping ahead in time without warning.

Nevertheless, this film remains a solid biopic about a man that isn’t talked about much anymore, but whose art still reverberates in the cultural landscape to this day. Tom created this art to cultivate gay romanticism out of an environment that suppresses it, and to try to seek love for himself. When the film shows the impact of his work to others in the same situation, it becomes an allegory about finding home, and shows that everyone has a place where they can survive and thrive, no matter how unlikely that place might be.  

Grade: B

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