Awkward comedy usually finds a home on television, where cable hits like "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" trap their characters in uneasy situations that build to a hilarious finish over the course of 20-odd minutes. Danish comedy "Clown," which is based on a six-season Danish series of the same name, plays like a "Curb" episode via the Farrelly brothers. More importantly, its charms hold over the 90-minute run.
"Clown" features standup comics Frank Hvan and Caspar Christensen as fictionalized versions of themselves. In the opening scene, Hvan discovers through a friend that his girlfriend is pregnant, leading to a difficult conversation where she implies he might be unfit for fatherhood. Eager to prove his "father potential," he takes his shy adolescent nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) on a hedonistic camping trip that the rambunctious Caspar had previously deemed "Tour De Pussy." Caspar's ambitions hit a roadblock with a 13-year-old along for the ride, but he doesn't abandon the mission.
The premise recalls Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip," which consolidated a miniseries starring comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon into feature-length format. While Winterbottom punctuated the comedy with moments of serious introspection, "Clown" director Mikkel Nørgaard strings his episodic adventure together by never slowing down. Once out in the woods, Frank and Caspar find themselves chased down the river by hordes of angry high schoolers after the horny Caspar makes an ill-timed move. Meanwhile, Frank's attempts at bonding with Bo go awry in a number of complications involving Bo's pint-sized manhood.
"Clown" gets its energy from constant raunch. Starting with an early scene where Frank inadvertently ejaculates on his mother-in-law (long story), Nørgaard makes it clear that "Clown" has no intention holding anything back. Caspar's treatise on "man-flirting" to get what he wants leads to a dicey sexual encounter only topped by the moment where he goads Frank into participating in a threesome with a reluctantly invasive finger. Frank's look of hesitation turns an unabashedly sophomoric yuk into great slapstick. For American audiences, each gag has added appeal because it contains an uneasy humor that's often explored but never fully exploited in these parts.
On the surface, "Clown" is familiar stuff: Frank keeps making wrongheaded attempts to man up and become the responsible person his girlfriend doesn't believe exists. Still, where most comedies of this sort might wind toward a neat conclusion, "Clown" constantly veers off-path and careens toward chaos, with moments of apparent tidiness used merely to emphasize the next inevitable fuck up. Because Frank can do no right, "Clown" does a lot of it.
criticWIRE grade: A-
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Although it hasn't played any large festivals, "Clown" won the comedy award this at the 2011 Fantastic Fest, one of several festivals where it has played to wildly enthusiastic reactions (it also won awards at Fantasia in Montreal). It's likely to wind up with a midsize distributor and do most of its business in ancillary markets, unless an "In the Loop"-style campaign helped introduce the caustic humor to American audiences. If that happened, "Clown" could become a commercial hit.