Fantastic Fest, the largest US genre film festival that takes place each year in Austin, TX, screened the US premiere of the Danish comedy DAN DREAM. This isn’t screenwriters/actors Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam’s first time appearing in a feature film at the festival. They won best comedy and best comedy screenplay with their movie KLOWN in 2011 and followed up in 2015 with KLOWN FOREVER. Christensen and Hvam have now scored a festival hat trick, because DAN DREAM is sure to be another festival favorite.
DAN DREAM is based on a true story of Thorkil Bonnesen who assembles a ragtag dream team of misfits—a flamboyant car designer, an emasculated engineer, a one-armed mechanic, and a coke-fueled lawyer—to help him create a Danish electric car. Thorkil, a consummate dreamer and optimist, moves the team and their respective families to the small town in Denmark, where a good idea goes from bad to worst. However, the beauty and hilarity of this underdog comedy comes from this group’s ability to somehow triumph even in failure.
As a period piece, this film captures the 1980s in pastel-colored perfection. New technology is everything. Cocaine is snorted two rails at a time. Men use curling irons. The world is changing rapidly, and not everyone is on board for it. Of course this is the 80s in Denmark, so not all of it will be familiar to an American audience, but the spirit and fashion of the time were apparently pretty similar no matter where you were.
The movie is pure comedy, but one of the things that struck me the most is how many serious issues Christensen and Hvam attempted to address without distracting from the overall tone of the movie. In some cases it worked, while others were treated with too much levity. The film’s primary focus obviously revolves around the creation of the car, but it also delves fairly deeply into the characters’ family lives and home drama. Jens Knagstrup (Frank Hvam), the gifted engineer who created the electric car battery, struggles throughout the film with a depressed daughter and a failing marriage that he doesn’t know how to fix. The film deals with this home-life drama very well with both humor and heartbreak. However, racism and homophobia are also at the forefront of the story, and although each topic is handled humorously, both issues are resolved too easily or not at all. In the same way, when the topic of domestic violence is introduced as a subplot, the movie glosses over the severity of it. It was definitely a tightrope walk for this movie to include the truth of the events but also supply a steady stream of humor, and at times, it wobbled, but not to the overall detriment of the film.
DAN DREAM captures a piece of history that most people outside of Denmark would have never known, gives us a group to root for, and offers plenty to laugh at. Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam are a comedy duo who consistently deliver.