Drafthouse's Rolling Roadshow 'Klown' Canoe Trip: Review & Recap
by Jeremy Kirk
July 27, 2012
I dunked headfirst on the Alamo Drafthouse's Rolling Roadshow canoe trip for their latest import - Mikkel Nørgaard's Klown. I want to get that out of the way in case anyone is excited about this. You don't have to scroll through searching if I made a faux pas. I did, and the result was a quick bath in the warm waters of the Guadalupe River. Everything was okay, as immediately after I and 100+ fellow canoers/movie lovers were then treated to an experience in cinematic hilarity. Klown is without a doubt the funniest comedy the summer has to offer, as sweet as it is shocking and laugh-out-loud hilarious all the way through.
More on the movie later, though. First came the canoeing (see the Rolling Roadshow page for full event info). Actually first came the drinking, as beer of all varieties were on the menu both brought and provided. It didn't matter which. They were both equally tasty. After meeting at the campgrounds where Drafthouse workers were already busy inflating the giant screen we would be watching the evening's film on later, we were bused up the river a few miles.
With a healthy amount of booze already in our stomachs, the bus driver's warnings and directions for how to get down the river safely fell on deaf ears. Not so much deaf, really, just half-inebriated. Some thought she was just messing with us. Others wondered if they should be taking notes. We all knew, though, that no one would really get hurt. Fans of the Drafthouse and their programming wouldn't possibly put themselves in any real danger, right? The sarcasm you should be reading into this should be dripping off the screen.
After being dropped off from our bus ride which can only be described as foreboding—uncomfortable also comes to mind—we were lead right to the river and right to our canoes. We all got oars and life vests, which many of us saw as an optional piece of equipment, and my canoe buddy, the lovely and funny—not to mention complete indoors-type—Britt Hayes (@MissBrittHayes), and I, along with roughly 100 others including Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, stars of Klown, and the Alamo Drafthouse's founders and owner Tim & Karrie League, started on our trek down the river.
Britt had never canoed before. I had been once, so, as the exponentially more experienced of the two, I chose our seating arrangement, Britt in the back and myself in the front. The "person in charge of where the canoe goes should be in the back" rule completely slipped out of my mind and found a way back into my memory after only six or seven run-ins with the banks. We switched places. For the most part, the rest of the canoe trip was a pleasant experience. For the most part.
Traveling over the shallower, rockier parts took some elbow grease. For the inexperienced, it's probably easier just to step out on the rocks and pick the canoe up over them instead of trying to drag or scoot it across the rocks with your body weight. By this point, though, the alcohol made it harder and harder to figure out what the easiest solutions were to any problem we might encounter. Rocks and spiders were the only real threat we ran into, and the trip down a gentle river with a pack of good friends on your right and a couple of bottles on your left became the relaxing event of the summer.
Then we got back to basecamp. Then we began lining up to have our canoes pulled up a ramp. Now I had seen a number of canoes that had capsized along our trip already. I'm sure at the forefront of my mind I thought, "That sucks. Hope that doesn't happen to me." But somewhere back in those more mean-spirited parts of the mind, I was probably thinking, "Hahaha, sucks for you, buddy." That being the case, I am sure karma had a hand in what came next.
The plan was to move our canoe up to the ramp, I would slide a foot out and pull myself up on the ramp, thus getting me out of the canoe so I could turn around and hold it while Britt got out. We neared the ramp and I started to shift my weight. The canoe started floating away from the ramp. I started to stand up to quickly get my foot out, but the canoe kept floating away from the ramp. At this point, I stood up completely. I knew it was the wrong thing to do. I remember thinking, "What the hell are you doing? This canoe is going to tip over." And it did. Both of us went right in as the canoe tipped completely over, our oars and empty bottles continuing on their own journey further down the river. I quickly got out of the water, helped Britt out, then helped pull the now submerged canoe up and out. As we walked back to the campground, I apologized to Britt and told her it was totally my fault. "I know," she said pretty casually.
We were both soaked, but it was fine, because we knew we had a night of great food and great entertainment ahead of us. Hot dogs and fries and strawberry crepes and beer flowing made up the great food, and the Alamo Drafthouse delivered a top-notch dinner for all of us. The great entertainment came with it, and there wasn't a dry eye on those campgrounds that night from all the side-splitting laughter that came with Klown.
A Fantastic Fest favorite from 2011, Klown is based on the Danish sitcom and stars comedians Hvam and Christensen as themselves. They also created the show. Think "Curb Your Enthusiasm" with crepes and you're getting warm. After six seasons, Hvam and Christensen felt it was time to take their sitcom to the big screen. In December of 2010, Klown - Klovn in its native country - debuted in Denmark. Long story short, Tim League saw the film, fell in love with it, brought it to Fantastic Fest, and decided to release it through his Drafthouse Films distribution leg here in the states, and we can't be more thankful he did.
As with the sitcom, Frank Hvam plays a version of himself but more nervous and much more awkward. Not many things go in Frank's favor, and his reactions to life's little surprises couldn't be more hilarious. Frank's girlfriend has recently discovered she's pregnant, but she doesn't think he has what it takes to be a father. Determined to prove that he does, Frank decides to take his girlfriend's nephew on a canoe trip along with Frank's friend Casper. Casper, Casper Christensen playing a version of himself but more as if he were auditioning for the lead in Shame, has other plans for their canoe trip. He calls it the "Tour du Pussy" and you can gauge what that's about just from the title. The three, 12-year-old included, set out on their own canoe adventure, and it isn't long before things turn very dark.
Klown is a dark comedy. Most dark comedies have a difficult time finding that balance between acceptably dark and just flat-out ugly. The best of these push that envelope, keep nudging closer and closer to the ugly territory but find a way to slip back into this side before the audience is turned off. Klown, written by Hvam and Christensen along with Mikkel Nørgaard who directed, makes pushing the envelope an artform. It's comedy is ruthless, hitting nonstop and hitting hard but never causing marks, those spots you remember in the film that you weren't on board where it was taking you. The comedy here won't be for everyone. This was a film that played Fantastic Fest. However, die-hards of that film festival who have missed out on this film shouldn't spend any longer away from it.
Hvam and Christensen are perfect together, creating that perfect comedic timing that the greatest comedy duos in history have only been able to achieve. Their personalities are dissimilar enough, and even though we don't completely like Casper and aren't supposed to, Christensen's charm keeps us from ever turning away from him. We can see why Frank tags along with him, allows himself to be humiliated by him, and even goes along with Casper's schemes more often than not. We see Frank's stumble points coming, those times where he's about to totally embarrass himself, and that tension only adds to the relief of comedy when his moments of extreme awkwardness come along.
But in all of that, we like Frank and understand his reasoning for trying to become something of a father figure to the 12-year-old Bo, played with as much innocence as fearlessness by Marcuz Jess Petersen. We're never in doubt of why is doing what he's doing. Okay, maybe a few times he steps over the edge, and he usually gets beaten back for it. Watching him stumble as he learns the responsibility that comes from being a father are endearing. When we come across the moments where Frank and Bo really find their connection, we realize how much heart Klown really has. It's a dark comedy that ultimately makes you feel good, and that's a rare item with this kind of sub-genre.
The laughs never stop with Klown, and by the end you only want to see more, more adventures for Frank and Casper, most of their obstacles coming from their own doing. Thankfully, the show has six whole seasons of these adventures. Unfortunately, right now the only way to see it is to import it. Drafthouse Films is working to get the entire series released here in the States, but for now you watch a very special episode of the show, which just happens to have been directed by Lars von Trier, for free, you can click this link, and download your show now. You might be disturbed by what you see, but you'll be laughing too hard to care.
Klown hits theaters in Los Angeles, Austin, and New York City, plus VOD (like iTunes) today, July 27th, and also comes to Blu-Ray and DVD in September. Thank you to Drafthouse Films and Fons PR for making this canoe adventure and special screening a truly amazing and unforgettable experience.
Jeremy's Grade for Klown: 9 out of 10