Pekka Strang, Lauri Tilkanen, Werner Daehn, and Jessica Grabowsky
Aleksi Bardy (Story by), Dome Karukoski (Story by), Kauko Royhka (Additional Storylines), Mark Alton Brown (Additional Dialogue), Mia Ylonen (Additional Storylines), Noam Andrews (Additional Storylines), and Susanna Luoto (Consultant)
Touko Laaksonen, known to the world as Tom of Finland, has long been an iconic figure within the gay community whose influence on art and fashion during the 1970's sexual revolution is pretty much inarguable. In this film, directed by acclaimed Finnish director Dome Karukoski, we follow the life of Laaksonen (Pekka Strang) from the trenches of World War II through his return to a repressed and homophobic Finnish society to his move to California and struggles to get published before becoming an embraced and celebrated icon of gay fashion and culture in the 1970's and beyond.
While it would be reasonable to expect a film about Laaksonen to be a bold and visionary film, Tom of Finland is a surprisingly straightforward biopic that takes few chances yet still for the most part hits all the right notes along the way. Tom of Finland very much brings to life that Tom's own life journey seemingly mirrored that of the culture he influenced as his early rejection and struggles gave way to self-acceptance, love, courage and cultural change.
Tom of Finland opened in New York on October 13th and is doing a slowly widening release through indie/arthouse venues with screenings planned throughout the end of 2017.
Known for having a dominating obsession with muscles, motorcycles and leather-bound men, Tom's break-out in many ways shifted the gay caricature from one of "sissies" to one of strength, empowerment and muscle. Pekka Strang, who portrays Tom across five decades of life, beautifully captures Tom's humanity rather than his caricature. He was a surprisingly reserved advertising executive who lived with his lover, Veli (Lauri Tilkanen), and his sister, Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky), the latter being a known homophobe who never wavered in her support of her brother.
Laaksonen returned from his time as a Lieutenant in the Finnish Army impacted, if not traumatized, by his experiences in the war and troubled by his return to a society where not only being gay was illegal but so was the creation of his now iconic works of art. It's only when he ships some of his work off to L.A. that Tom, whose "of Finland" was added by Bob Mizer of Physique Pictorial Magazine, that he begins to create the world in which he so much wants to live.
Tom of Finland is safer than it ought to be and, in all likelihood, is created with hope of reaching a wider viewing audience. It's unfortunate, really, because Tom of Finland often feels like a film on the verge of greatness that never quite gets there. It's a good film, occasionally a very good film, but it never really soars like this story should soar.
For more information on release dates, visit the Tom of Finland website linked to in the credits.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic