Men and Chicken is a Danish comedy that obliterates the line between “funny ha ha” and “funny peculiar” – this grotesque, pitch black slapstick romp feels narratively undercooked and comedically lost in translation. Out of every genre in existence, comedy is the one that is most likely to fall flat when presented to audiences of different nationalities, and this proves why that is the case.
After watching a foreign language comedy fall flat due to plundering an insane concept, it actually makes it understandable why Hollywood constantly churn out predictable, formulaic comedies. The broader they are, the more likely they are to travel well. Director Anders Thomas Jensen’s film is obviously a cut above the majority of mainstream efforts, even if there is a dearth of actual humour inside; he seems to be more content leaving audiences with their stomachs well and truly churned. It leaves an impression, but not much to actually laugh about.
Two brothers, one a writer (David Dencik) the other a sexually backward man child (Mads Mikkelsen), find out that they don’t share the same mother- and that their family have connections on the (fictional) Island of Ork that hold all the answers as to their real lineage. When they get to the Island, they find three siblings with facial deformities similar to theirs, living in squalor in a dilapidated country house. How are they all related, when they all claim their mothers died in childbirth?
Men and Chicken is a high concept movie that feels incredibly awkward to English sensibilities, even though there is a clear influence from several cult BBC sitcoms – from the lowbrow pratfalls of Bottom, to the horror inflections of The League of Gentlemen, the indelibly strange narrative presented here feels familiar in spite of its raging peculiarity. The latter series is the clearest influence in terms of character design; each character is defined by having a cleft lip, among other visible deformities and surrealist behavioural tics that create the impression of people who have never been in the presence of polite society, let alone reality.
The difference between this film and The League of Gentlemen is that Men and Chicken provides an entirely predictable form of grotesquerie. The entire crux of the narrative, for the brothers to find out who their real mother was, appears to be resolved approximately 30 minutes in- yet isn’t firmly revealed until the final 10 minutes, in a manner which would be shocking had it not been blatantly obvious for the entire run time. Compare this to the Magnolia-style interconnected narratives of The League of Gentlemen’s underrated third season; there, the elements of jet black humour, surrealism and downright disturbing imagery combined to make three hilariously discomforting hours that could not be described as easily predictable.
This isn’t to say Men and Chicken is entirely without humour – it just rarely elicits laughter. Mads Mikkelsen’s central performance is the film’s unique selling point, due to him playing a sexually disturbed freak of nature, given a “normal person” make over in the same vein as Colin Farrell’s frumpish appearance in The Lobster. He gives the most enjoyable performance, but as a whole isn’t given much interesting to do – and none of the other cast, best known to British audiences for appearances in both The Killing and Borgen (there are very few actors in Denmark, after all), fare any better.
Beneath the slapstick and the stilted line readings of absurdist dialogue, the story goes out of its way to try and extend itself to feature length. No sane audience member won’t be able to second guess the direction of the narrative, so Jensen spends the majority of the running time filibustering with irrelevant sequences (bible class, picking up women at an old folks home) that make the entire endeavour feel tedious throughout. For a film with so much weirdness raging inside of it, it’s remarkable just how dull Men and Chicken frequently is.
Danish comedy: it’s no laughing matter.