Alongside Ofelas (from 1987) and Søndagsengler (from 1996), Peter Næss' adaptation of Ingvar Ambjørnsen's beloved novel about the dysfunctional lives of Elling and Kjell Bjarne is one of three Norwegian films nominated for an Academy Award in the category for non-English language films. Elling doesn't have the edge and power to make this psychological and sociological study as mind-expanding as it probably should have been, but Næss' knack for making unconventional characters (which are actually rather conventional in the Norwegian film tradition of portraying outlandish, edge-of-society characters) entertaining and likeable will do the trick with most viewers.
The performances are likeways; likeable and charming if not terribly deep. However, Ellefsen and Nordin find an effective, reciprocal tone between them. And all the way, Ambjørnsen's interesting ambiguity towards the effect of the Scandinavian welfare system when it comes to mental illness gives the film its thematic backdrop - he criticizes the institutional and secluding tradition Elling and Kjell Bjarne have their roots in, but still has faith that the dutiful public sector (impersonated by Jørgen Langhelle's character) will be able to make things right.