Anders Thomas Jensen’s Men and Chicken is something of an event film, marking the end of a ten year hiatus from directing duties since 2005’s Adam’s Apples. Jensen has continued a prolific career as a screenwriter on films like The Duchess and The Salvation, but a return to directing his own work is a welcome event.
Men and Chicken has a lot on its mind, following two brothers (David Dencik and Mads Mikkelsen) as they journey to a lonely island in order to investigate their biological parents and end up meeting three new siblings (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Nicolas Bro, and Soren Malling). Jensen wants to discuss family, heritage, biology, genetics, and the male persona, whilst remaining focused on the film’s ability for farce and hilarity. Make no mistake, Men and Chicken is hilarious.
A lot of that power comes from a superb cast of Danish nationals. Mikkelsen is fantastic; the respected global star swaps Hannibal’s suave manipulation for compulsive masturbation, obstinacy, and general oikishness. It’s a superb transformation and undeniable proof of Mikkelsen’s talents when he’s not pinned as a smooth, creepy bad guy, but it never works best than when paired with Dencik’s turn as uptight, logical, constantly-gagging, Gabriel, the only brother not prone to acts of random aggression. The characters themselves are funny to behold, even if you sweep aside the surface stuff, these are characters who operate within some skewed logic which allows moments of perfect dialogue and slapstick comedy.
There’s a really horrific element to Men and Chicken though, one that doesn’t need macabre eyes to be seen, since Jensen layers the comedy on a base partly comprised of grief, partly of Gothic horror. Sure, a likeness with The Three Stooges is on-point, but no one mentioned how macabre things get. Those reveals are best kept as surprises; images that sum up so many parts of the story should never be given away lightly. Suffice to say this is a complex and weighty comedy, if it is that.
That’s maybe the most wonderful thing about Anders film, that even when we are forced to be around a gang of misogynist numpties who choose violence as their first reaction to everything, we end up oddly attached to their world. The ending spells out Anders very clear and vaguely aggressive desire for people to put aside their differences and indulge in human compassion, but it can get away with that after shamelessly entertaining us for an hour and forty-five minutes.
A laudable screwball comedy with considerable heart, Men and Chicken is well worth a watch for its fantastic performances and perfect slapstick. A welcome return from Jensen who is currently on scriptwriting duties for Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.
Dir. Anders Thomas Jensen
Stars: David Dencik, Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Nicolas Bro,Soren Malling