'Men & Chicken'
The Danish filmmaking industry isn’t exactly renowned for its comedies. The culture that produced filmmakers like Lars Von Trier, Nicolas Winding Refn and Thomas Vinterberg doesn’t exactly seem like a laugh factory. Yet ‘Men & Chicken’ is indeed a Danish comedy, and a hilarious one – just one that finds its laughs in unexpected places, such as death, abuse, decay, existential crises, and Mads Mikkelsen.
Within a few seconds of the movie kicking off, death is already used as a punchline. Stoic Danish character actor David Dencik (‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, both versions of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’) watches his father die after giving a pathetically amusing excuse for his brother’s absence. That brother is played by the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen, who is introduced on a date with a psychiatrist in a wheelchair whom he ducks out on to jerk off in the bathroom. The brothers share little in common beyond a cleft palate, but are closely joined. When they watch a video their father left behind on his deathbed (which is hysterical), they learn that they were only half brothers and he was never their father.
The duo heads off to the isolated farm community where their real father lives. Only one ferry visits the town twice a week. It can only hold a single car and the total population of the community is 41. When they finally arrive, they find out that they have three more brothers whose primary form of communication is vicious beatings, and they have a massive rotting family home filled with deep dark family secrets (damn funny ones too, of course).
Writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen’s film is absolutely hilarious in a pretty sick and heady way. It’s a darkly absurdist tale, with running gags about such cheery topics as excessive masturbation, child abuse, psychosexual dreams, destructive co-dependency, and depression. You know, all the Danish filmmaking favorites. And yet, it is uproariously funny thanks to Jensen’s distinctly sick sense of humor and flare for filthy and fascinating visuals. All of the characters are appropriately monstrous and lovable, while the locations are so evocatively rotten that you can practically smell them.
Sure, ‘Men & Chicken’ isn’t exactly a movie for everyone, but it’s more than worth checking out for Mads Mikkelsen’s batshit insane performance. Robbed of his typically haunting demeanor, the brilliant actor is given a bad wig, worse teeth and even worse behavior. He clearly relished the opportunity to stretch and delivers such a manic and deranged comedic turn that it’s hard not to be impressed.
Truthfully, all of the actors are strong, the humor is consistently twisted, and the visuals are evocatively nasty and cartoony. The only problem (and it’s a biggie) is that Jensen is never quite able to top or even equal his wildly funny first act. Sadly, the hilarity and ingenuity of ‘Men & Chicken’ slowly fades away as the movie marches toward the credits. But what works remains so oddly effective that the film is definitely worth a look for adventurous cinephiles. Be warned, you have to appreciate both darkly depressing Danish cinema and gross-out comedy. That’s a very narrow target audience, but at least the few folks who fall into that tiny group are guaranteed to love it.