Swedish Auto

Like a boxy family car from Scandinavia, Swedish Auto puts safety and predictability over style and performance.

Swedish Auto

Director: Derek Sieg
Cast: Lukas Haas, January Jones, Lee Weaver, Chris Williams, Brianne Davis
Distributor: MPI Home Video
Rated: Not rated
Year: 2006
Release date: 2010-02-23

Carter (Lukas Hass) works at Leroy’s Swedish Auto Shop by day, and stalks a violin-playing University of Virginia coed by night. He’s shaken out of his harmless, if voyeuristic routine, when Darla (January Jones)—waitress at the diner where Carter eats lunch every day—begins stalking him. When he notices, Carter begins following her, in turn.

The dueling stalkers eventually fall into a relationship, and Carter must decide between the beautiful, affluent, and unattainable undergrad Ann (Brianne Davis), and the sweet, troubled, but available Darla. Oh, and rescue Darla from her helpless mother’s chain-smoking, cancer-stricken, morphine-addicted, abusive boyfriend. In the meantime, we share some laughs with Carter, Leroy (Lee Weaver), and Leroy’s son Bobby (Chris Williams), another mechanic, who’s jealous of Carter’s gift for fixing cars.

Carter can’t get the girl, however, without a car.The heretofore dedicated pedestrian who walks to work and everywhere else asks Leroy if he can fix up one of the junker Volvos rusting behind the shop. Once given permission, he proceeds to return to mint condition a 1967 Volvo coupe that becomes The Vehicle that will enable him to escape the twilight of his protracted adolescence to become a man worthy of a woman’s love (but which one?).

“We could go anywhere in this car”, Carter tells Darla when he shows her the Volvo pre-restoration. The film begins with a montage of the old cars behind Leroy’s that captures Carter behind the wheel of the coupe. We get it. Carter’s not going anywhere until he puts his life in gear, steps on the gas, hits the road: all the relevant clichés suggest themselves at this point as the film veers from independent romantic comedy to standard-issue teen coming-of-age flick. It’s Christine, minus the demonic possession.

As a metaphor, the car works much less effectively than the barriers—windows, doors, windshields—that separate characters throughout the film. In one particularly powerful scene shot in Charlottesville’s open-air Downtown Mall, a gathering place for students and townies, we see Carter reflected in the glass of a shop, transparent. As a haunting piece plays on the soundtrack, Darla appears, reflected behind him, equally insubstantial.

A much more potent symbol for Carter’s development emerges on Darla’s first visit to Carter’s place, when she picks up an auto side mirror, which Carter identifies as a memento from the car crash that killed his family. This marker of Carter’s past and emblem of his fragmented life emerges naturally, unforced. The mirror is enough; we don’t need a whole car.

Writer-director Derek Sieg, who shot the film in Charlottesville, and on the UVA campus, uses locations to great advantage. One evening we follow Carter past the university’s storied dormitory row (where Edgar Allan Poe lived during his stint at the school), and the scene emphasizes the gulf between Carter’s dream-filled working-class existence and the lives of privilege enjoyed by what the more class-conscious Darla calls “college people”.

Sieg stumbles, though, when we follow Carter to Darla’s house. It’s a change of neighborhood, but also another distracting shift in genre, to Southern Gothic. Darla’s mother and her boyfriend Shelley are straight out of central casting, cracker division. Carter must move beyond both good and bad father figures to gain his independence, but where Leroy’s kind, but firm affection for Carter is revealed slowly, Shelley remains a one-dimensional villain of the kind that mars too many films set in the American South.

Hass and Jones turn in good, steady performances. When Carter finally gains entrance to Ann’s bright, shiny College Girl Apartment, the camera lingers on his face. We see certainty replace confusion, as he finally understands what Darla has told him about where he really belongs. Sieg should have trusted his cast to carry the plot in subtle moments like this, instead of relying on more predictable, generic plot devices like the auto transformation.

It’s instructive to see Jones play a character so different from her role in AMC’s '60s period series Mad Men: Where icily stoic Bryn Mawr grad Betty Draper—wife of the series’ hard-drinking, philandering ad executive antihero—often seems barely human, shy, lonely Darla is all feeling once she connects with Carter, as she works hard to live the emotional life for both of them.

Previews and the Swedish Auto trailer are the only extras on the DVD.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.