This review was originally published on January 24, 2012…
Films about men living with an overbearing mother, yet yearning to break free from them, are nothing new. Neither are films examining the long-term effects of having an overbearing mother on a son with no father (or worse, a cuckolded one), and the results are usually horrifying. Yet the Danish film “Teddy Bear” takes both of these issues and tags them onto a character so likable and different you can’t help but be drawn into this simple story of a desperately lonely man looking for love. The film is, well, a pleasure to watch because it takes interesting characters on an interesting journey.
“Teddy Bear” is the story of Dennis Petersen (Kold), a competitive bodybuilder who lives a simple life in a small house with his domineering mother Ingrid (Steentoft). When I describe Dennis as a “competitive bodybuilder,” I’m not joking around. I’m talking a hulking mass of rock-hard flesh and bulk so large that anyone in range of this man looks beyond diminutive by comparison. I honestly think Kim Kold, the actor playing Dennis, is larger than Arnold Schwarzenegger was at his prime so as you might imagine, this guy is no joke. But what’s always struck me about buffed-out dudes of this size is the little things. Like… how do guys like that hold a fork or drink a cup of coffee? How do they fit into the drivers seat of a car? How do they meet girls who are into that lifestyle? How do they wipe their butt? All of these questions (except the last one, unfortunately) are answered in this film and the effect is charming, startling or both. Dennis is an alien in the world he inhabits due to his size but as we learn, his demeanor also sets him apart.
Ingrid uses well-honed manipulations to keep her son in line and doing what she wants him to do which is, stay home and look after her. When that doesn’t work she turns into a sulky brat and tries to guilt the big man and it seems to work as Dennis is clearly a kept man who has to resort to lying just to get a brief reprieve. He never raises his voice or expresses himself and he clearly only gets an outlet and catharsis for his feelings by working out and we can all see the results. Ingrid has been up his a*s for years and, in many ways, she’s created a monster. But Dennis is no rage-a-holic or bully. He’s polite and extremely naïve to the point of awkwardness which makes him even more alien on our planet and makes the film even more interesting.
After an uncle marries a pretty young Thai woman and brings her home, Dennis is intrigued and decides to fly to Thailand to search for love. Take a naïve, muscle bound behemoth who has no experience with women or the world at large and send him to Thailand and you have a recipe for disaster or, hilarity. But that’s another thing that’s so great and refreshing about “Teddy Bear.” The film never seeks to make fun of Dennis or sell him out as a character. The filmmakers respect him and viewers do too. For as big and strange as he is, you want to see him succeed even as things start going bad really quickly.
Kold is terrific as Dennis and that’s no easy task. A dude this huge could easily become a parody but I always felt like this was a real person and I was rooting for him. He reminds me of Marv from “Sin City” as drawn by Frank Miller. The film never dips into saccharine sweet poignancy and is a very low budget affair. If the director and his crew had a tripod, they rarely used it and there’s a real documentary feel. Instead, the characters, script and action do the work and the audience gladly comes along. In many ways “Teddy Bear” reminded me of James Mangold’s debut film “Heavy” in which an obese man played by Pruitt Taylor-Vince pines for a lovely waitress played by Liv Tyler. But that film had some sad, dark notes whereas “Teddy Bear” felt more truthful and matter-of-fact. I honestly had no clue what might happen next in “Teddy Bear” but constantly found myself hoping for the best.