KLOWN Review and Alamo Drafthouse Canoe Trip Recap

     July 25, 2012

Earlier this month, I got a phone call from the fine folks at the Alamo Drafthouse.  They wanted to know if I’d be interested in spending some time with the guys from Klovn (or Klown, to our English-speaking friends), a filthy Danish comedy I’d seen—and passionately loved—back when it premiered during last year’s Fantastic Fest.  This little meetup would include a canoe trip up the Guadalupe River with the film’s stars, with Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, an outdoor screening of the film, and a whole lotta beer.  It seemed that Drafthouse Films had picked the film up for U.S. distribution, and they were looking to get the word out about the film.  Did I want to go?

Lemme tell ya, folks:  if the Alamo Drafthouse ever calls and asks if you wanna go up the Guadalupe River on a canoe trip that ends with a booze-soaked screening of their movie on the banks of the river (via the Rolling Roadshow’s giant, inflatable screen), you say “Yes”.  Read my report from this awesome weekend (and a review of Klown!) after the jump.

The most memorable comedies of the past decade all share a few common denominators– a great cast of relative unknowns supported by great writing (see also:  Derrick Comedy’s Mystery Team), maybe, or a clever concept that’s performed energetically by a talented group of comic actors (see also:  the first Hangover), or lots and lots of skin-crawlingly awkward humor (see also:  Bruno and Borat)—but the very best comedies share something that most comedy-genre films never even skirt the edges of:  a total lack of fear.

Borat would certainly fall into that category, as would Armando Iannucci’s In The Loop (still my pick for best comedy of the past decade) and Christopher MorrisFour Lions.  That last one—it’s worth noting—was so fearless, it only could have been released in America thanks by someone with enormous balls, someone with a distribution company that had been set up specifically to bring films like Four Lions (which turned Islamic terrorism into comedy)(no, really, you should see it) into this country, someone who’s more concerned with the quality of the film than the number of tickets it sells.

In other words, it only could’ve been shepherded into America by someone like Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League, the “film geek Willy Wonka” whose Drafthouse Films has become the go-to distribution house for totally badass films that might not otherwise find themselves onto screens in the U.S.  Drafthouse Films has released a number of excellent titles during its short lifespan:   this year’s not-quite-post-apocalyptic breakdancing-gang-members movie The FP, for instance, or last year’s Oscar-nominated Bullhead.  This week, Drafthouse Films adds another excellent film to its ranks, and—just like Four Lions before it—it’s a stunningly tasteless (but heartwarming!) comedy led by a handful of enormously likable foreign actors:  Klovn (or Klown), which opens in limited release (and on VOD) this Friday, July 27th.

When the folks at the Drafthouse called me up earlier this month and asked if I’d be interested in joining them for an elaborate weekend built around a screening of the film, I was pumped:  I’d seen the film at last year’s Fantastic Fest, and had been raving about it to anyone that would listen ever since.  When I learned exactly what the Drafthouse had in store for their Klown-based weekend, I was even more pumped:  things would kick off with a Friday-afternoon lunch at the world-famous (no, really, and it deserves every ounce of praise it gets) Franklyn’s BBQ, would carry over into a canoe trip up the Guadalupe River on Saturday (bringing lots and lots of beer was strongly encouraged) that would end with the assembled crowd watching Klown on the Drafthouse’s giant, inflatable Rolling Roadshow screen, and would culminate in a few one-on-two interviews with the film’s leads on Sunday morning.  If you’ve already somehow seen Klown, you’ll understand why this was so exciting, and if you haven’t, well…imagine if someone asked you if you’d like to spend a weekend boozing it up with The Hangover guys at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

Before I get into a recap of the canoe trip and Rolling Roadshow screening of Klown, let’s talk a bit about the film itself:  Klown is based on a Danish TV series of the same name (its full title is actually Klovn: The Movie), one that’s been a big success in its country of origin for a number of years.  The show gets compared to HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm a lot, and with good reason:  the format, pacing, and tone on both series are virtually identical, and the ongoing logline—about a misanthropic, middle-aged guy who always seems to be doing or saying the wrong thing—are also very similar.  If there’s a big difference between the two, it’s that Klown seems a bit more preoccupied with sex than Curb Your Enthusiasm is, and Klown: The Movie takes that to an entirely different level.

In Klown, you’ve got one ostensible lead—that’d be Frank (Frank Hvam)—but the film is really about both Frank and his sex-obsessed friend, Casper (Casper Christensen).  As the film begins, we learn that Frank and his would-be wife are at a crossroads:  she wants to have children and start a family, but doesn’t believe Frank is “father material”;  Frank, on the other hand, thinks he’s got “loads” of “daddy potential”, and just wishes that he could somehow prove this once and for all.   This ongoing debate is occurring just as Frank is about to head off on a “camping trip” with his friend Casper, who in actuality is using the “camping trip” ruse to cover-up the real purpose of the trip:  a “Tour du Pussy” along a nearby river, one that will hopefully bring both Casper and Frank in contact with a number of willing, single (and not-so-single) ladies before dumping them right at the front door of the country’s most infamous brothel.  Neither Casper nor Frank’s better-halves know about this aspect of the trip, and it’s of (obviously) massive importance that they don’t find out.

On the day that Casper and Frank are set to leave for their “Tour”, one thing leads to another and Frank decides to take (OK, yes, it’s kind of “kidnapping”) his would-be wife’s nephew.  By taking him along on the trip and showing him a good time, Frank thinks that he’ll prove—once and for all—that he’s got plenty of “daddy potential”.  As you might expect, this doesn’t sit well with Casper, but even though he’s adamantly against the idea, forces conspire to keep the trio together.  The rest of the film deals with this unlikely crew’s misadventures in and around the river on their way to that notorious brothel, and it is…well, it’s a lot of things:  relentlessly dirty, hilarious, and heartfelt, just to name a few.

The film’s unique—it will show you things you’d never expect to see in the average studio comedy, that’s for sure—but it also pays homage to a number of other great comedies that have come before it (there’s a sequence towards the end of the film that seems to tip its hat in the direction of National Lampoon’s Vacation, and the final scene tips another knowing wink to The Hangover…while raising the stakes considerably).  The first time I saw the film, I was shocked at how far it was willing to go for a laugh, and super-excited to discover that it was sticking the landing on virtually every gag it tossed off the screen.  The second time I saw the film—after the flat-out awesome canoe trip arranged by the Drafthouse’s never-short-on-kickass-ideas PR team—I was impressed at how well it holds up:  some comedies (particularly those that traffic in “shocking” humor) will lose their edge once they’ve had their way with you a first time.  Not Klown:  it’s well-written and acted enough that the shocks aren’t really its strongest feature, which means that—even when you know what’s coming—there’s still plenty to enjoy.  Hell, I might’ve laughed even harder at the film upon second viewing.

All hyperbole aside, Klown stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the funniest films of the past decade; its future as a word-of-mouth cult hit is all but guaranteed.  If you dig The Hangover, Curb Your Enthusiasm, wanton nudity, and middle-aged men behaving badly (or if you just really, really like canoes), you can’t go wrong with Klown.  Seek it out the moment you can this weekend, be it in your local art-house theater or via Video OnDemand (I’m already organizing a watching party at my place for Saturday;  no, you can’t come, internet-weirdo).

Now:  the last time I’d attended one of the Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow events, it had been for a screening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, held on the grounds of the house where Tobe Hooper shot the original film all those years ago.  That had been an absolute blast, and the one the Drafthouse folks threw for Klown was just as impressive:  at a pre-determined time, all of us met up about 90 minutes south of Austin on the banks of the Guadalupe River.  I was thrilled to discover that some of my favorite internet-people (the always-willing-to-cuddle Todd Gilchrist, for instance, or FilmDrunk’s Vince Mancini) had come into town for the trip, and pleased to discover that Frank and Casper were also going to be making the trek upriver with us.  We loaded beer into coolers, loaded ourselves into canoes, and then loaded those canoes into the water to begin our trip upstream.

As it happened, my ladyfriend (who’d accompanied me on the trip to serve as my “canoe-mate”) had never been in a canoe before, and seemed to have an enormously difficult time grasping the difference between “port” and “starboard” (and when those failed, “left” and “right” turned out to be equally mystifying to her).  This resulted in me doing most of the heavy-lifting when it came to paddling, which–it turns out–becomes progressively more exhausting with each new beer you put down (cue:  “The More You Know” theme music).  Casper and Frank—two dudes who you’d think would be masters of the canoe after filming a comedy that largely takes place in and around them—fared better than the average internet-journalist on the trip, but not by much:  when we came to a group of rocks about 2/3rds of the way through the trip, a number of people’s canoes capsized…Frank included.  Thankfully, the water was only about a foot deep in that area, so this wasn’t as severe a setback as it might’ve been, say, in a state that receives more than one inch of rainfall every three millennia.

Once we arrived back at basecamp, all the campers were led to the Drafthouse’s nearby food truck, given overflowing plates filled with Drafthouse food (including one of the best hot dogs I have ever eaten, anywhere, ever) and—of course—more beer to fuel the screening that was about to take place.  After everyone had been fed, was seated, and ready, Drafthouse owner Tim League got up in front of the crowd, introduced Frank and Casper, and then let the movie have its way with the assembled crowd.  Though I’d seen the film back during Fantastic Fest, the copy I’d seen had been a press screener that I’d watched on my laptop:  seeing it during this camping trip was the first time I’d seen it with a “full” audience, and I was delighted to find that they were just as entertained by the flick as I’d been on first viewing:  the laughter came quick, constantly, and didn’t let up until the credits rolled (and even then people were still kept laughing, as Frank and Casper took to the stage to field an increasingly dirty series of questions from the audience).

Side Note:  if you’re a frequent Collider reader, you probably know me from Limited Paper, the poster-collecting column that we run here at the site.  If you’re a fan of that column, you may be interested to hear that–while Casper and Frank were in town—the pair stopped off at the Mondo Gallery to sign a stack of limited-edition Klown posters that’d been created by Mondo artist Alan Hynes.  The design is simple, elegant, and more than (form)fitting.  Check it out below:

  • Klown by Alan Hynes
  • 18×24
  • $35 edition of 140


We left the campgrounds exhausted that night, but our stomachs were full and the entertainment had been fantastic.  This weekend, if you live in New York, Los Angeles, or Austin, you’ll be able to see the film for yourselves on the big-screen, and I strongly suggest that you do:  if you see a funnier movie than Klown this year, I’ll be extremely…well, I’ll be skeptical, because I don’t think that’s very likely.  In New York, Klown is playing at the historic Village East theater, while in Los Angeles it will be screening at the Cinefamily.  Here in Austin, Klown’s playing at the Alamo Drafthouse (obviously), and if you’re looking for screenings at any of those locations you should head on over to Fandango.com to see what they’ve got in the way of screentimes.

And what about everyone else?  What about those of you that can’t be in New York, Los Angeles, or Austin to see “Danes Behaving Badly”?  That’s what Video OnDemand is for, people:  if you’ve got OnDemand service via cable, check for the film on July 27th and you should find it there at a more than reasonable rental-price.  Organize viewing parties!  Watch it alone with your cats!  Do whatever comes naturally, but—for the love of God—see this movie as soon as possible.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

While you’re waiting on Friday to roll around, here’s another bit of Klown-related (and Lars von Trier-related, of all people) news for ya, via the folks at Drafthouse Films:

In anticipation of the upcoming July 27 theatrical/VOD/digital release of KLOWN, the boundary-breaking comedy that critics are calling “the funniest movie of the year,” (The Village Voice), Drafthouse Films is offering fans a free digital download of a very special episode of the original “KLOWN” television series. The hit 60-episode sitcom, which is the basis of the feature film, ran for 6 seasons in Scandinavia starring internationally celebrated comedians Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen as themselves — two wildly inappropriate friends plowing through various jaw-dropping situations and an unthinkable array of social faux pas.

Award-winning Danish auteur Lars von Trier (Dancer In The Dark, Melancholia, Antichrist) guest wrote an episode of the series titled “Its A Jungle Down There,” about Frank and Casper’s wives taking interest in a masturbation class and their persistent infiltration of these very private sessions. Drafthouse Films has released this hilarious episode for free on their website and are also planning a release of the series in its entirety later in the year on various digital platforms. KLOWN, the feature film is also available for pre-order on DVD/Blu-ray via the Drafthouse Films website and www.KlownTheMovie.com.

That’s right, if you head over to this page right now you can catch von Trier’s episode of Klown absolutely free, right this minute.  If you’re wondering when episodes of Klown might be made available for purchase here in the States, well, you’re not alone…but based on a few behind-the-scenes things I’ve heard, we might have an announcement to make about that possibility sometime very soon, so stay tuned!  And for the love of the Comedy Gods, make sure that you catch Klown when it hits theaters and VOD!  As always:  sound off in the comments section below if you’ve got anything you’d like to add here, folks!

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