REVIEW: Dogme 95 Meets The Hangover in Startlingly Funny Klown
Like so many of the R-rated comedies of Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips, the Danish film Klown is about men behaving amusingly badly while the women in their lives wait on the sidelines for them to grow up and get their act together. In Klown, however, the ladies have a pretty good case for just walking away, and a certain resignation in their attitudes suggests they know it, but have already put so much time into these relationships that they feel terminally invested.
Directed by Mikkel Nørgaard and based on a 2005-2009 TV series of the same name that you need know nothing about to appreciate the film, Klown is the story of besties Frank (Frank Hvam) and Casper (Casper Christensen) and the camping trip they've planned together that's actually an excuse for Casper to sleep around and Frank to attempt to prove he's fit for fatherhood. It's startlingly funny in an uncomfortable, envelope-pushing way that's all the more effective for how it sneaks up on you — its shocking gags are folded into a low-key, semi-realistic style like a Dogme 95 take on The Hangover.
Frank is the petulant, awkward half of Klown's central friendship, while Casper is the outgoing horndog, and however long the pair have been pals, there are few boundaries between them. The vacation they've planned strategically involves a canoe, because, as Casper explains, his girlfriend Iben (High Fidelity's Iben Hjejle) would never want to come along on a canoe trip and so she won't be around to prevent his running wild. Their end goal is a party being thrown by their friend Bent (musician/composer Bent Fabricius-Bjerre, playing, like most everyone else in the film, a Curb Your Enthusiasm-style gloss on his real-life self) for which prostitutes from around the world are flown in for a once-a-year bacchanal.
But then Frank learns from a friend that his girlfriend Mia (Mia Lyhne) is pregnant, and that she hasn't told him because, as she puts it, "I worry you don't have enough potential as a father." She has reason for concern — and Frank's plan to prove her wrong involves spontaneously and ill-advisedly taking Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen), Mia's 12-year-old nephew left in their care while his newly remarried mother is on her honeymoon, with them on what Casper has given the child-unfriendly name of the "Tour de Pussy."
Near the start of the film, Klown winkingly places its main characters at a book club meeting in which the novel chosen is Heart of Darkness (neither Frank nor Casper did the reading). But our two heroes aren't journeying into the forbidding unknown — they're the agents of chaos, bringing entertaining disaster to everyone they encounter, from a group of high school students on a field trip to a woman who takes them in and feeds them after their boat capsizes. Klown has a looseness to it that can feel improvised, but many of its jokes reveal themselves to be carefully structured, from one that plays off of Casper's technique of male flirting to get his way (he matter-of-factly insists to Frank that all men are a little gay) to another involving the single-serving bottles of Underberg liquor the pair are constantly downing.
Tubby, solemn Bo is no adorable sidekick, and Frank's no natural with kids, and his attempts to entertain the boy go wincingly poorly. When there is the odd moment of sweetness, it's disarmingly off-kilter, as when Frank consoles Bo about the fact that for guys with their build, their tummy fat can make their penises look smaller. Frank's fitness for fatherhood comes down to a genuine question about whether he'll ever be able to put the well-being of someone else before his own, and while he means well, poor Bo rarely seems in safe hands throughout the trip. The kid gets humiliated, neglected and endangered, but also gets an instance or two of giddy, well-earned, irresponsible joy — it's thanks to him that the film can find something touching about the act of peeing while standing up.
Are there lessons to be learned in Klown? Thank god, no, though Frank does experience a smidgen of hard-won growth while Casper remains gleefully unchanged (Christensen is the film's comedic stand-out, his smirkingly slick persona landing him in outrageously humiliating situations). It's hard to call the film a tribute to male friendship when it presents guy-bonding time as all an excuse to get smashed, hit on teenagers and bang one's way through multiple continents worth of hookers, but it does touch on the dread of getting older and the desire to hold on to both the feckless kid you were while also being the grown-up you inarguably have become, one that can lead to some lousy decisions. One of the film's best and most hilarious moments comes after a rough night for both of the characters that ends in a jaw-dropping reveal. Reunited, the two walk through the campsite determinedly not talking about what they've each been through. Sometimes friendship means sticking by someone, and other times it mean knowing when to just let things be.
Klown is in theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Austin and on VOD Friday.