The main conceit of Mads Matthiesen’s “Teddy Bear” (aka "10 Timer til Paradis") which was previously established in his 2007 short film “Dennis,” is that its protagonist is a bulging bodybuilder who ironically isn’t macho at all. The idea that this guy, Dennis, is introverted, awkward with women and for all we know a 40-year-old virgin is expanded upon in the feature, and though it’s a simple idea with little extra going on the film never overextends its welcome.
Actually there is something fairly important going on besides and also effecting Dennis’ incongruous personality. He lives with a domineering mother who disapproves of him drinking, dating or doing much else except spend time with her. She certainly won’t be consenting to any marriage plans, especially if they involve him going to Thailand to find a wife. But she will use the toilet in front him, as he showers, curtain agape.
Imagine an over-muscular action star, say Arnold Schwarzenegger or Dolph Lundgren, doing a sad sack movie and you’ll get some idea of what to expect from “Teddy Bear.” Okay, maybe “Rocky” sort of covered the shy strong man thing already. And even Schwarzenegger did a bit of the shtick for “Twins.” It’s not far-fetched though, to consider that a hulking bodybuilder or jock would have low self-esteem and lack real virility. Those traits probably led to body consciousness and the desire for a physical substitute to confidence in the first place.
While in “Dennis” the superficial thing works for him to an extent, in this sweet and steady adaptation/sequel (more the former if you note the inconsistency of the mother’s name) he’s even less attractive to women beyond the physique. He’s quieter, more inept and he comes off a bit creepy on a first date that opens the film. After his uncle returns to Denmark with a bride in tow, the big guy disappointingly shows little originality or moral tact when he immediately decides to do the same (he tells his mother he has a competition in Germany). Sadly, he’s not much better with arranged or hired dates either.
It’s always easy to guess what general direction the film is going in, but there are turns, setbacks and cliche moments that redeem themselves. And even with the simplicity of premise it’s hard not to keep watching Dennis, who is adequately played as a dim and gentle giant by real life bodybuilder Kim Kold. You want him to find love, you want to find out how he will find love and you want to see the expected confrontation with his mother (Elsebeth Steentoft). It all pays off sufficiently, if rather softly — I guess befitting the tone and characters.
More than “Teddy Bear” itself I’m intrigued by Kold and wonder if his understated performance is indicative of any real talent. And even if not, could he make the full transition from bodybuilding to movies like Schwarzenegger did? As the title suggests, Dennis is a lovable lug and Kold’s likability isn’t that far off, I presume. If only Steven Soderbergh hadn’t already sworn off doing more action movies after “Haywire” I’d say he should import the guy over for his first American vehicle. Maybe he can play Marvel’s “Bruto the Strongman” if these “Avengers” and “Spider-Man” franchises keep going.
“Teddy Bear” is now playing the Sundance Film Festival where it is screening in the World Narrative Competition program.
Recommended If You Like: Ramin Bahrani films; “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”; “Twins” Meets “Throw Mama From the Train” (with Schwarzenegger replacing 'twin' Danny DeVito as Owen)