A Couple of Bozos, by Rita Cannon
Marlene Dietrich is supposed to have said that, “In America, sex is an obsession. In other parts of the world, it is a fact.” There’s an enduring idea that Europeans, urbane and worldly as they are, are just cooler about sex than us prudish, uptight Americans. If prostitution laws and sex ed curricula are anything to go by, it might be true. But if there’s one thing American audiences can take away from the new Danish film Klown, it’s that maybe we should stop beating ourselves up, because at least a handful of people in Europe are still being absolute children about it.
Based on a popular TV series of the same name, Klown follows the exploits of Frank (Frank Hvam) and Casper (Casper Cristensen), two very different but equally stupid middle-aged men planning a just-us-guys canoe trip, the end point of which is a world-famous brothel. Casper, the cooler and more overtly caddish of the two, is calling it the “tour de pussy.” Frank and Casper are both in long-term, apparently monogamous relationships, but that doesn’t strike either of them as a reason not to go. What does throw a wrench in the works is the news that Frank’s girlfriend Mia (Mia Lyhne) is pregnant. Unsure about Frank’s capacity to be a good father, she’s considering leaving him, having an abortion, or possibly both. In a desperate bid to prove his paternal potential, Frank kidnaps Mia’s 11-year-old nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) and takes him along on the trip. This plan goes off about as well as you’d think, and leads to a series of bizarre comic set pieces that will forever raise the bar for humiliation-based humor.
Klown is similar to a lot of recent comedies in its tone (rowdy and vulgar, but with undercurrents of emotional sincerity) and its basic story arc (a manchild decides to grow up for the benefit of the woman in his life), but with one major difference. Most of these comedies end with the protagonist successfully setting aside childish behaviors for something he now feels is more important. The message of Klown seems to be that, try as they might, Frank and Casper will never really manage to pull themselves out of the tar pit of their own stupidity and get their crap together, even when faced with impending fatherhood. Every attempt to rectify a mistake results in a larger and more irrevocable one. Just when you think the guys may have figured out how to save themselves, one of them follows another harebrained impulse and screws them both over again. Most of these mistakes are pretty funny, but it gets harder and harder to root for our heroes when they’re so unrelentingly dim. Add to that the seriously envelope-pushing level of raunch, and Klown, while certainly clever and well-constructed, will make an alienating watch for a lot of people.
Neither lead is particularly likable, though it’s clearly not anyone’s goal to make them so. Frank is arguably the nicer of the two, if only because he’s not quite as secure in his philandering as Casper, and he draws a line at sleeping with high school students (Casper doesn’t). That said, neither has any qualms about exacting some seriously awful humiliations on poor Bo – we’re talking about stuff that would be skin-crawling if it happened in a dramatic film. The idea that Frank would in fact be a terrible father gets hammered pretty hard, which leaves the central conflict of Frank and Mia’s breakup in a weird limbo – most audience members will probably want her to leave him, and the movie seems to acknowledge this at a couple of different points.
Klown finds itself in the strange position of being kind of groundbreaking and kind of tired at the same time. It takes dark, awkward, character-based humor to new heights. The dynamic between Bo and the two older men is interesting, and occasionally touches on the idea of what it means to be a man in unexpected ways. But it also relies on a lot of clichés, and completely revolves around the one where the guys try to go out and have fun while their boring wives stay home and disapprove. There are times when it feels like The Hangover with subtitles and more graphic nudity. And while I’m sure there are a lot of people who would love to see that, there are probably just as many who could take or leave it.