Friday, August 23, 2013

Teddy Bear Movie Review

I heard about a foreign film through the grapevine last year which caught my attention. It's about a bodybuilder trying to find love. That alone sounded intriguing since we don't imagine those beefcakes are ever at a loss for female companionship. Teddy Bear (2012) foreign film from Denmark, it's written and directed by Mads Matthiesen, it's his first full length movie, and is based on Matthiesen's 2007 short film.
38-year-old bodybuilder Dennis (Kim Kold) would really like to find true love. He has never had a girlfriend and lives with his mother (Elsebeth Steentoft) in a suburb of Copenhagen. When Dennis's uncle Bent marries a girl from Thailand, Dennis decides to try his luck on a trip to Pattaya. Dennis knows his mother would never accept another woman in his life, so he lies and tells her that he is going to Germany for a competition. Dennis has never been out traveling before and hectic Pattaya is a huge culture shock for him. The intrusive Thai girls bruise Dennis' naive picture of what love should be like, and he is about to lose hope when he unexpectedly meets a very kind Thai woman named Toi (Lamaiporn Hougaard). They hit it off well, but Dennis dreads what may happen if his mother finds out the truth.
There are so many interesting aspects of this story. Generally, stories that revolve around someone seeking love usually feature a woman making an almighty struggle to find the right man to fill the void in her life, occasionally while being urged on by an impatient mother who wants grandbabies. Here the story revolves around the man simply seeking meaningful companionship, not necessarily sex. Men do want relationships, too, but social norms and gender roles tend to dictate that it's much more important to women. This story is honest enough to challenge traditional story tropes and do something unique.
Often to make a romance story more palatable to a broader range of viewers , they add "comedy" to the genre tag. This makes the story even less interesting since many "romantic-comedies" are so similar they are almost indistinguishable. I keep saying romance, but this movie is more of a drama. Yes, there are humorous bits and a few romantic scenes, but overall it's about Dennis taking a leap of faith to try to find fulfillment and keeping his overbearing mother at bay.
Dennis is such a good character. He is an enormous man who is 308 pounds of muscle. While at the Gym or at competitions he is in his element. Socially, especially when on a date, he is a very shy and awkward man. The movie doesn't have the comical elements revolve exclusively around Dennis' inability to talk to women as most romantic-comedies do; everything about the character is meaningfully done. Kold really is a professional bodybuilder, and even with his lack of acting skills he manages to bring a genuine sweetness to a fairly unique, gentle giant of a character. He's such an unconventional character that it's hard not do like him.
Dennis is a gentle giant seeking love.
Dennis discovers that "easy to find love in Thailand" actually means it's very easy to get a prostitute in Thailand. Dennis isn't after sex at all, and is very much put off by the prostitutes who try to get under his clothes. The movie had a lot of great potential to explore the differences between love and sex, but seemed satisfied to simply establish the fact that there is a difference. It's a bit of a wasted potential, but it doesn't make the movie less enjoyable. Teddy Bear does lean a bit towards being about sex tourism, but doesn't actually do it. There is no nudity or sex scenes. The movie is about finding love, not about getting laid.
Teddy Bear is really a pretty good movie. It has some issues with unnecessary shaky camera work and being a bit slow paced at times, but that's the worst I can say about it. It's got a unique spin on stories about seeking love and a unique character that you can't help but get drawn into. The languages in Teddy Bear include Danish, English, and Thai. There are sub-captions for the non-English speakers; that shouldn't put viewers off too much since roughly one third of the movie is in English. As an independent foreign film it is not rated, but if I were in charge of the world it would safely lie in the PG-13 area. If you're interested in movies that challenge social constructs of love or are a fan of foreign films, this is definitely one to catch. It won't appeal to everyone, but I think it's worth renting.

What movies have you seen that challenged social norms and gender roles? Are there particularly good ones worth seeing? Comment below and let us know!

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