Humour is a funny thing, as it were. Too broad or slapstick, it appears childish and fatuous. Too dependent on wit and the charm can get lost in translation.

A FUNNY MAN betrays its title in a number of ways. This is a high concept biopic of Dirch Passer, a celebrated post-vaudevillian that seems, in this harried tale, to not have had a funny bone in his body. Attempting to mix RAGING BULL with MR. SATURDAY NIGHT, the film falls as flat as most of the so-called “jokes”.

I grant immediately that one fault of the film is a direct result of its need (for me, at least) of subtitles. During the performances of several of the skits, the subtitles anticipate the punchline, often by quite a large amount of time. The humour itself is pretty sophomoric, depending almost entirely on a stuttering or similar affected delivery – with the removal of this performance quirk, the puns and silliness falls flat. They’re very, very bad jokes, but a small percentage of them are made worse through no fault of the film.

As we follow Dirch’s rise and fall, the film attempts to add complexity to the narrative, including seemingly hallucinogenic moments involving dead colleagues and other affections of the miserable life of Dirch. Characters come and go with little development, and even the most maudlin moments seem tired and well tread in better films.

There is a scene, halfway through, where Dirch and his partner engage in a bit of slapstick with a couch – here there’s the briefest of glimmers of what this film could have been, the lightness and interplay of the two managing to at least crack a smile. This lightness is quickly extinguished, the misery quickly returning as we delve into a somber tale of a neurotic, unlikeable oaf.

Near the end, with Dirch a heart-compromised elderly man (shown in amateur-applied old-age makeup) is shown fucking a nymphet he has met onstage. When in the next scene we see Dirch, his lover and his children (aged similarly to his new interest) walking blithely on the beach without comment, the failure of the film becomes simply appalling.

I adore Danish cinema, and had very high hopes for this work. Instead, we got a forgettable, humourless, drab film that left me aghast.

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