Shortly after their father dies, brothers Gabriel and Elias (both afflicted with a questionable state of mental health) discover that they are in fact adopted. They learn that their real father lives on a very sparsely populated island called Ork, where they subsequently travel to in order to try and find out a bit more about him. When they arrive they discover that they have three other half-brothers living together in their father’s house while the old man (who is now almost 100 years old now by the way) lives upstairs and is not to be disturbed. While Elias soon begins to feel right at home with his newfound family (who also exhibit similar mental health imbalances), Gabriel grows suspicious over the true nature of who his father really is after making discoveries relating to his past in stem cell experimentation.
Men & Chicken is a film that wears its eccentricities on its sleeve and this becomes clear from the very beginning. Our introduction to Elias (Mikkelsen) sees him exhibit a clever way to get his dreams analyzed by a psychoanalyst without having to pay for it, swiftly followed by a trip to a public bathroom to pleasure himself. This man clearly has a few issues going on. He is prone to aggressive outbursts that are portrayed as both comical and disturbing in equal measure and lets just say his people skills could do with a bit of fine-tuning. It is an almost unrecognisable turn from Mads Mikkelsen, who English-speaking audiences will know mostly as TV’s Hannibal Lecter and Casino Royale’s Bond villain Le Chiffre. But while Lecter and Le Chiffre gave Mikkelson an outlet to exhibit his natural charisma for holding the viewer’s eye by means of little more than a knowing stare, Elias is a whole different thing. This character is uptight, rude and at times very, very funny without ever meaning to be. It’s nice to see the acclaimed Danish actor showing off some of his range and indulging in something reminiscent of his early acting roots (this marks his fourth collaboration with writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen). The supporting cast are all very capable too, David Dencik as Gabriel being a particular standout.
While there are some strong performances here, the biggest problem with Men & Chicken is that it is just too weird. This may be billed as a black comedy, and it very much is, but what it doesn’t say on the tin is that the farcical elements on display are interspersed with genuinely unnerving themes that upset the film’s tonal balance. You will laugh at these brothers hitting each other on the head with rolling pins and dead birds, but you’re never really sure if you SHOULD be laughing at these people. There are also some key reveals late in the game that threaten to hammer down the boundaries of taste.
It’s difficult to fully understand what Jensen is trying to say with this film. There are several recurring themes that run throughout, including what it means to be human, succumbing to base desires and the importance of family. However, the way it approaches this suggests an outlandish desire to maybe try and say a bit too much at once, which is ambitious when the outlet for these themes are a core group of characters all lacking in relatable social skills.
Somewhere beneath the weirdness there is a very sweet and even sensitive film here. But it is too well hidden behind something that could easily be described as The Three Stooges meets The Island of Dr. Moreau. It’s got its moments most definitely, but unfortunately audience goers will likely remember this one for the bizarre factor rather than the nicer character moments.
MEN & CHICKENS IS RELEASED ON 15TH JULY