Based on filmmaker Mads Matthiessen’s short film Dennis of five years ago, Teddy Bear (oddly titled 10 timer til paradis [10 Hours to Paradise], in it’s native Danish) is the delicate character study of Dennis (Kim Kold), a 38-year-old, 400 pound, 1.9m tall, trophy-winning body builder. A domineering presence, he is the biggest manchild ever encapsulated on screen. Softly spoken, with no friends other than his sparring gym buddies, Dennis still lives with his diminutive mother Ingrid (Elsebeth Steentoft – In A Better World, Italian for Beginners). With a distinct lack of confidence, he is trying to find some meaning of life behind the muscle.
When his somewhat Freudian relationship becomes overbearing, and inspired by his uncle (Allan Mogensen), Dennis travels to Thailand to purchase the love of his life. Basting in the monsoon heat, he puts on his tailor-made threads and parades the city bars and restaurants looking for a lady of the night. The girls are clearly interested in the hunk, but he is afraid of commitment and sexual contact. He returns to his sanctuary, the gym, and stumbles upon a friendly Thai widow (Lamaiporn Hougaard) who may just be the woman he has been dreaming of. But what would Mother Ingrid do?
Whilst the name Teddy Bear may sound like a dab-hand at tired irony, there’s something awfully mawkish and non-Scandinavian about this Danish drama. Written by Matthiessen and collaborator Martin Zandvilet, the lack of comic relief, dark subtext or substantial plotting means that the drama feels rather meat headed and predictable. Kim Kold’s portrayal of the reticent Dennis is initially impressive but, when the film needs some emotional depth, the beefcake’s acting chops are tested and tarnished.
A treacly character piece, it’s the absolute antithesis of the 1973 Arnold Schwarzenegger-centric documentary Pumping Iron. Both movies fill the screen with impressive muscle, but Teddy Bear weighs in without the heart, passion or balls it needs to carry it’s preposterousness.