Sunday, March 25, 2012
Teddy Bear is playing on March 29 and 31 as part of the New Directors/New Films series.
From its title to its closing caress, Teddy Bear skates perilously close to the cliff’s edge of mawkish sentiment but never falls in. Dennis (Kim Kold), a sweet but emotionally stunted 38-year-old Danish bodybuilder, lives in a state of arrested development with his deceptively birdlike little mother, Ingrid (Elsebeth Steentoft), who’s sunk her talons deep into him and has no intention of letting go. Just one Hollywood-style speech, with Dennis ranting about being a boy in a man’s body or railing about the need to overcompensate that drove him to create that hulking carapace, would have blown this lightweight contraption right over that cliff, but cowriter/director Mads Matthiesen sidesteps that trap, letting Kold’s cartoonish body and sweet face tell the story.
Like a quietly rebellious teenager, Dennis keeps the peace by lying to his mother about his tentative but persistent attempts at finding a girlfriend, since Ingrid would forbid it if only she knew. Just once he tries to tell her the truth, but she refuses to hear it, throwing him out of her room in anger. The camera follows Dennis out into the hallway, where he hangs his head just outside the closed door, his look of worry and chagrin putting to rest any doubts we might have about whether he lies just to protect her or for his own sake as well.
When his death’s-headed uncle brings home a pretty young bride from Thailand, Dennis decides he might have more luck there than at home, where women treat him like a freak. So off he goes, trading the dark cave of his mother’s house for the bright, crowded streets of Pattaya. It does seem easier to find acceptance there—half the people he passes in the Copenhagen airport gawp in his wake, while people in Pattaya compliment his odd combination of suit jacket and shorts—but it doesn’t look as if it’s going to be any easier to find a nice girl. The bar his uncle referred him to, which he doggedly returns to every night, turns out to be a front for running prostitutes. The obese American owner (David Winter), seeing an easy mark, keeps setting him up with shellac-hard young women who are several lifetimes too experienced for him, even if they’re half his age.
But Matthiesen never lets things go wrong for long before sending a deus ex machina to rescue his hero, so Dennis suffers through only two bad “dates” before meeting Toi (Lamaiporn Hougaard), a lovely woman who seems just right for him, her quiet sensitivity and unassertive self-confidence making her pretty much the opposite of his neurotic mother. Matthiesen lays out his story in a literal-minded, unadorned style that matches Dennis’ lack of guile, but he holds our interest by keeping the fate of this steadfastly decent couple uncertain right up to the end. Will Dennis learn to stand up for himself? Will Toi stick around long enough to find out? Judging by the gasps at the screening I went to, everyone sure hoped so.
Written for Slant