THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
As comedians from George Carlin to Louis C.K. to Larry David have proven, anything can be funny, depending on how you approach it. Even the most controversial of subjects can provide fodder for humor. The key is to not simply trot them out for shock value. They have to be delicately and deliberately placed in a context that is humorous, so that you're not really laughing at the “thing” so much as you're laughing at the context in which the thing is presented. I'm not even going to tell you what the movie Klown finds humor in. It wouldn't sound funny, and you'd think I was a sicko for laughing at it. I will, however, say that this Danish import understands the value of context. It's a daring, offbeat work of comic madness.
Frank (Frank Hvam) is a man-child whose girlfriend is thinking of dumping him because she doesn't believe he'll make good father material. To prove her wrong (i.e. to avoid getting dumped), he essentially kidnaps her 12 year-old nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) and drags him along on a canoe trip he's taking with his buddy Casper (Casper Christensen). That the trip is scheduled to include a visit to a brothel, among other illicit activities, never gives him a moment's pause.
The arc of Klown is familiar. Frank doesn't really like kids, and just wants to do his own immature thing. As he spends time with Bo, his attitude softens. He also manages to “fail upward,” making some bad decisions that nevertheless force him to accept responsibility in the end. What isn't familiar is the way the film travels that arc. Shot in a deadpan, fly-on-the-wall style, Klown puts the characters in increasingly awkward and embarrassing situations – and then lets them sit there. This is an extreme example of what I call “squirm comedy,” a style of humor in which the awkwardness is the joke. Director Mikkel Norgaard drives home the fundamental immaturity of Frank and Casper by forcing us to witness it long past the point of comfort, so that it almost becomes absurd. This, in turn, makes Frank's eventual nudge into maturity – as tentative as it is – ring more true than it would in a dumber comedy like, say, Adam Sandler's Big Daddy.
This is not to say that Klown is warm and fuzzy. Those two things, it ain't. I gasped and laughed simultaneously multiple times, especially at the ending, which is one of the most hilarious moments I've seen in a movie all year. And this is the beauty of Klown: it takes things that aren't intrinsically funny (and are often more than a little offensive) and finds the correct way to frame them. Without spoilers, that last scene is hysterical not because of the deeply inappropriate thing we see, but because it puts Frank and Casper into a situation so outrageously mortifying that “awkward” doesn't even begin to define it.
The film is a bit episodic, and I wish additional time had been spent developing the characters in a little more detail. Those things might have lifted Klown into the realm of a modern comedy classic. As it stands, this is still a bold film for people who aren't afraid to laugh at a movie that cheerfully breaks all sense of civility and decorum.
( out of four)
Note: Klown will be released in theaters and on VOD/digital formats July 27th. Theatrically, it will open at the Village East in New York City, at Cinefamily in Los Angeles, and at Austin's famed Alamo Drafthouse.
Drafthouse Films, the company releasing Klown is also offering a free download of the hit Scandinavian show on which the movie is based. Written by noted bad-boy director Lars Von Trier (Melancholia, Antichrist), the episode will give you some idea of the film's tone. For even more on the movie, please visit the official website, KlownTheMovie.com.
Klown is rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!