Running Time: 102 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist and Reviewer
‘Families are a curious thing, make a one man weep make another man sing. Change a hawk to little white dove, more than a feeling, that’s the power of families‘. I’m sure there is something wrong with that quote but then again there is something very strange and deranged regards the family dynamics involved in Anders Thomas Jensen’s black comedy. If you are interested in the subject matter of bestiality, compulsive masturbation, taxidermy, beatings by taxidermy, stem cell research gone unspeakably wrong, how to meet women at all costs and far worse then Men & Chicken might be your favourite film of the year.
The story introduces us to Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) on a rather unsuccessful date with a handicapped psychoanalyst. Whilst dashing to the toilet due to his compulsive masturbation condition, he receives a call from his brother, Gabriel (David Dencik) who explains that their father has recently passed away. After watching a video left from their late father they discover that they were adopted and that their real family can be located at a sanatorium in the island of Ork. Gabriel is reluctant to take his cretinous older brother having blamed him for his inability to hold a long term relationship and normal lifestyle despite a highly respected professor’s role. Both brothers have similar facial deformities but Elias is able to engage in acceptable social interaction despite a jarring gag reflex.
They meet the mayor of the island and his suicidal daughter, who Gabriel takes a shine to and Elias attempts to mount. The brothers finally arrive at the crumbling remains of the sanitarium. Having high hopes of meeting family members closer to his level of intelligence, Gabriel is horrified to find three further siblings in the mold of Elias. The building is overrun by farmyard animals and cheese. There is no access to their father’s room and strictly no visits to the shady laboratory in the basement.
Against all odds the brothers begin to bond and participate in story telling and games of badminton. Things take a turn for the worse when the truth is revealed as to what exactly has been going on in the basement of the house and why the brothers weigh so much significance on who gets to eat off the dog plate.
Men & Chicken is going to be appreciated by anyone who likes their humor at a repugnant and uncomfortable level. Jensen delights in taking the most taboo subjects and poking a stick at his audience until they laugh, throw up or leave the cinema hall. Yes, a few people did exit the theatre I attended.
Men & Chicken becomes surprisingly warm and emotional as the horror and dramatic elements replace the comic ones in the final third. It succeeds due to a fine script and some wonderful performances from an experienced and talented group of actors. Each character, bar Gabriel, is psychotic and repulsive but they also avoid the stereotypical, comical freak status that poorer writing would have pigeon holed them in. Mikkelsen’s anti-hero is wonderful, especially a scene where he takes his three cretinous brothers out on the pull at the local retirement home or as he attempts to convince a terrified nursery manager that he should reinstate his brother as a carer after earlier being dismissed for beating up an eight year old with a stuffed fox.
The jokes never become repetitive or the slapstick humor overused. There is also a subtle and eerie score similar to that heard in The One Who Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest for those familiar with the classic Jack Nicholson drama.
Perhaps my favourite comedy of the year due to the fabulous performances, dark subject matter and emotional tones that arise throughout the running time. Jensen has constructed a genetically modified, grotesque comedy gem.