Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, David Dencik, Nikolaj Lie Kaas
Genre: Comedy/ Drama
Brothers Elias (Mikkelsen) and Gabriel (Dencik) have always been social outcasts (especially Elias) and after their father reveals on his deathbed that he is not in fact the brother’s biological father and their real father lives on a remote island, the two of them travel to meet him. However, once thee they meet their other oddball brothers and uncover some unsettling facts about their true identity and origin.
In the film world no one certainly does comedy like the Scandinavians; their uncompromising and often very matter-of-fact approach leads to their films being more than happy to go to some very dark places. Though they can certainly be more than a little unnerving at times, these films often provide a perfect antidote to the lazy, middle of the road and lowest common denominator approach of mainstream English language comedies and for those willing to expand their mind can provide very rewarding viewing.
Men & Chicken is yet another gem of a film to come from Scandinavia; it is in equal parts hilarious and unnerving, while managing to be deeply engrossing from start to finish. To merely label Men & Chicken as a comedy is simply doing it a gross disservice; it is a film that, though perhaps an acquired taste, offers many pleasures to those willing to go with it its very strange story and characters.
It is often the case that we the viewer can quite quickly figure out a film and get a decent grasp of where its story is going and what it is trying to achieve, but for a very long period Men & Chicken is so strange and surreal that it is almost impossible to gain even a very basic understanding of where the hell the film and its characters are going. This is certainly by no means a film that is odd for the sake of it, it is clear that writer/ director Anders Thomas Jensen is in control of his film and knows exactly where to take the story and every piece of dialogue and Individual scene. However surreal, dark or slightly unsettling they may be, these moments are most certainly included for a reason. However we the viewer cannot take anything for granted as the film keeps its cards close to its chest, but this only serves to make the overall story even more engaging and intriguing as we cannot help but want to find out the answers to the narrative’s questions.
No matter how dark certain elements of the film are, there is an intelligent, and often philosophical approach that is reflected in the ideologies of the characters and the words they say. Within the surreal narrative and characters also exist some thought provoking ideas and theories, only serving to make Men & Chicken that bit more engaging.
Immediately from the start it is impossible not to be intrigued by the story and want to discover the truth about the childhood of Elias and Gabriel. For all their strange, and often slightly disturbing quirks, it is impossible not to like all of the film’s characters. This is most definitely one of the key elements of why Men & Chicken is such a good film is it is effortlessly watchable, often we the viewer cannot even quantify why we are intrigued and engaged, but yet we are. Meanwhile, there are elements of the narrative that go to some very dark places, but they are presented in such a subtle, casual way that it simply works, and really does serve as a lesson to those making mainstream comedies that subtlety and suggestion can be so effective, and it really is a shame that mainstream cinema is seemingly scared to take such an approach.
Of course another key element as to why Men & Chicken works so well is that Jensen has managed to assemble a superb cast of some of the current biggest names in Scandinavian cinema. Though this could have easily been a cynical ploy to attract a bigger audience, comedic roles can often prove to be more challenging and Mads Mikkelsen, David Dencik, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Søren Malling and Nicolas Bro all deliver masterclass performances in subtle, understated comic timing. The understated nature of their performances also makes their characters, despite having some slightly disturbing quirks, very engaging and certainly worth caring about. If the filmmaker and the actors can get the audience to care about the narrative’s characters, then the audience is more likely to accept the narrative developments, and this is most definitely the case in Men & Chicken.
As the story develops it does certainly takes some very dark turns, but these are only ever delivered with a jet black, matter-of-fact approach (which only makes them even more funny/disturbing), and it is impossible not to be engaged with the story as the characters learn certain facts about themselves, while their unique quirks only ever become quite endearing. Admittedly the narrative’s big revelation does become quite obvious before it is announced, but overall Men & Chicken is one of the most enjoyable and genuinely funny films of 2016, even if it may contain some slightly disturbing moments that will stay with the viewer for a while.
Once again the Scandinavians show the cinematic mainstream how comedy should be done; Men & Chicken is emotionally engaging, deeply disturbing and utterly hilarious in equal measure. It is not only one of the funniest films of 2106, but one of the best.