Movies/Entertainment,  Off the Shelf

Film Community Potluck Series: 'Terribly Happy'

Castor and Red at Anomalous Material have come up with an idea that is so brilliant and yet simple that I wish I had thought of it:) Taking the “book club” model and turning it into a “Netflix Recommendation Series”, all participants suggest a film then a Potluck drawing decides who watches what. A week later we reconvene to share our findings. See, told you it was simple. So for now my reviews of this week’s Potluck (FYI this series will be lumped into to my Off the Shelf Reviews thought these will be shorter).

Set in Denmark, Copenhagen cop Robert (Jakob Cedergren) winds up in the remote and derelict town of Skarrild. It is a slow-boil film that, based solely on the narrative in the opening sequence, is anything but straight forward. Robert has been stationed as the lone Marshall in Skarrild while recovering from a recent scandalous incident. With time he hopes to return to the city and his family.

Not long after arriving Robert makes it clear he is anxious to leave but for some reason his family isn’t eager to have him come home. Skarrlid is an eerie town to say the least with residents who seem bound for purgatory, if they don’t already have one foot in the door. Here in nowheresville Denmark Robert, at first, seems like a fish out of water. Yet as the story progresses we find that he’s quite suited to be here. Robert is seen in the beginning to dump his prescription pills and it’s a sure sign that what will follow is never going to be black and white. So with a straightforward and ho-him start, Terribly Happy becomes a film with a David Lynch change of pace, clarity and mood pretty quick.

No one is a saint and that’s probably why they live in the ghostlike town of Skarrlid. Liken this to in structure to a Coen brothers movie (with certain parts of the movie reminiscent of Fargo) if you will. The moodiness abounds and this story goes from bland to bad to quicksand making it almost as uncomfortable for the viewer as it is for Robert. Robert at first is very standoffish. He’s just trying to wait out his assignment, but he inevitably gets involved in the townspeople’s affairs pretty quickly. Making matters worse he gets caught between the town’s most feared resident and his abused wife much to the disapproval of the tight lipped townsfolk.

Basically it’s a Western set in isolated Denmark. As like Woody Harrleson’s character in Palmetto (anybody seen that one?), Robert isn’t a good guy or a bad guy really but he continually makes bad decisions. However, weird as it sounds, you find yourself pulling for him to make it out of his own mess.


To me, Terribly Happy lagged but it certainly picked up in the third act. After the sloth-like pace, a series of tension filled and increasingly pressure driven scenes were a welcoming twist to the story. Further, things got really good just as fast as they got weird. Not that it was a bad thing as it was interesting to see how close Robert came to losing control of things. If you can make it past the “take your time” pace at the start of te film you just may be impressed with the ending. Though it ended pretty damn well, I just didn’t see a point to the story. This was supposedly based on actual events but I guess in a town like Skarrlid where ghostlike residents and “Mojn” (their word for Hello and Good Bye) abound, anything could be seen as interesting.


  • Red

    Thanks for the link, and good write-up. I’ve read mixed feelings about this movie before, although I think I’d have a similar reaction to yours.

    And Pete, if you’re talking about the Potluck, it’s never too late to join! 🙂

    • MarcC

      Despite my reference above it’s not as good as a Coen Brother’s movie and not as wild as a Lynch film. Though, thinking harder about it, this is very much like Oliver Stone’s U-Turn…but not that that movie was really great either.

  • Will Schiffelbein

    Aww! TERRIBLY HAPPY is one of my favorite films of 2010. I found it to be a dark meditation on institutions and how men invariably fail when challenged by them. Looking at the card game that the men play:

    At each side of the table lies a different institution. You have the shopkeeper, who controls the town’s commerce. You have the doctor, who is the caretaker of the town’s health. Third is the pastor, who oversee’s the spiritual guidance of the town. Those three institutions- markets, health, and the church, are among the most powerful in society. They’re only waiting for the police officer, the lawman, to sit with them as the old officer once did. And from the first time you’re introduced to this dynamic, you can tell he eventually will sit with them.

    That, and I loved the metahpor posited by the bog that devours the town’s secrets. Very Coen, very noir. Loved it.

    • MarcC

      As I’m not a huge Coen Brothers fan (or of noir films as a whole) its probably why I didn’t dig something in the vein of their work. I will say it was crafted very well and when you spell it out like you did that’s a cool premise albiet on a level deeper than I was looking. Saw the end coming but still loved the inevitable nature of it. Very smart.

      Thanks for stopping by Will, nice surprise to get your comment! Didn’t know you read the blog though I’ll probably lose you as a fan if I pan the films you love:P