Men & Chicken

by Derek Deskins

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday April 22, 2016

Nicolas Bro and Mads Mikkelsen in 'Men & Chicken'
Nicolas Bro and Mads Mikkelsen in 'Men & Chicken'  (Source:M&M Production)

As a film, "Men & Chicken" is perhaps the perfect reflection of its characters. They are not people with whom you would necessarily want to associate. They appear strangely on the surface and, by all accounts, as you get to know them their intrinsic oddities only increase.

But slowly, as their presence is forced upon you, their quiet charm wins you over. The zany goofballs show their softer sides, their sadness, their struggles, and they become people that you care about. It is the development of a friendship, the acceptance of family, a transition that is wonderful in its subtlety. It is perhaps the most oddly honest and genuine film to so frequently involve assault with a taxidermied animal.

A large part of its charm is both its connection to and detachment from reality. The world is familiar enough and its characters, often cartoonish in their sensibilities, feel grounded to some extent. The setting and the proclivities of its inhabitants are more akin to the wonder of Jean-Pierre Jeunet than some thoughtful indie. It should feel disconnected as if two diametrically opposed worlds are being forced into one another. Writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen can walk this fine line to strike a delightful balance. He delicately dips his toe into the extremes of slapstick, as if The Three Stooges took a drug-fueled trip to Denmark, but then counters with the emotional catharsis and naked honesty for which the American mumblecore movement so often strives. It makes for a wholly unique cinematic experience, offering up just as many laughs as it does quiet contemplation.

Much of the success can be attributed to Jensen's superb screenplay, which doesn't so much assemble jokes as play off its own situations. The punchlines are delivered quietly and matter-of-factly, without fanfare or pretense. Rather than search for the laughs, Jensen feels all the more comfortable to just let the interactions generate a kind of organic humor. It is the type of film that doesn't inspire large guffaws, but rather a gently rumbling chuckle that builds and develops the further in you wade. And, thanks to some superb casting, the material is only elevated by the performances.

Mads Mikkelsen, who likely will receive the most attention due, primarily, to his higher celebrity status, is inspired as Elias. The actor, who so frequently plays roles of dignity or menace, disappears behind makeup and wardrobe so completely that I often found myself forgetting that it was an actor at all. But it isn't only Mikkelsen that excels, for the entire cast is so well suited to the material and committed to making it something that feels authentic that to point out any single performance as a standout is inappropriate. As most will be more familiar with Mikkelsen, his transformation is the most apparent; but do not be misled, the entire cast is fantastic.

Nicolas Bro milks laughs out of something as small as persistent scuttling after cheese; Nikolaj Lie Kaas ingratiates with steadfast loyalty; SÝren Malling imbues the smallest moments with a sense of longing and fear, and David Dencik offers up a straight man and audience proxy that flirts with annoyance only to the betterment of his character. Their performances coalesce into a strange ball of off-the-wall antics and exploration for a sense of self. And that is where "Men & Chicken" sets itself apart. It isn't just about pointing at different people and laughing. It's about moving past the surface, because deep down, we are all weird and screwed up.

Don't get me wrong: "Men & Chicken" isn't a film that blasts out of the gate with laughs and insight. Its first act is deliberately paced (some may argue, boring) with plenty of exposition and table setting. However, it greatly rewards patience and persistence. Bolstered by a nuanced script and direction that finds jokes in the darkest and smallest of places, the film comes alive in the hands of its performers. Every performance shows a fantastic self-awareness that makes even the briefest of moments feel necessary and worthwhile.

In all honestly, many people will hate "Men & Chicken." It will bore some and annoy others. But, for those that look for an escape in the cinema, "Men & Chicken" offers up a delicious feast. Sweet, funny, strange, and heartfelt, it is an outright great film that your friends will likely hate you for recommending.