The hero of “Terribly Happy” is sent from the city to the wilderness, where he’ll be the new sheriff in a town where the locals are none too keen on seeing a stranger stride into the main street saloon.
Oddly, this movie is not a western. It’s a Danish film, the city is Copenhagen, and the small town outpost is called Skarrild, a place that seems to be surrounded by the kind of all-consuming marshland Anthony Perkins found so handy for hiding things in “Psycho.”
The movie’s a kind of “Outer Limits” black comedy where the police officer, Robert (Jakob Cedergren), is almost immediately under intense scrutiny. Maybe he should be: something shameful happened back in Copenhagen, which resulted in his (supposedly temporary) duty here in Skarrild.
It doesn’t take long for a case to come to him, as a seductive wife (Lene Maria Christiansen) asks for protection from her gross, abusive husband (Kim Bodnia). That seems simple enough: Save the heroine from the bully.
When the husband tells a different story, it leaves Robert with a puzzle to unravel. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem equipped to figure out much of anything, since he spends much of his time mooning about and placing desperate telephone calls back home, where he may have left loved ones.
Or so we assume; director Henrik Ruben Genz (who is already working on a U.S. remake of this thing) isn’t inclined to spell too much out for us. Which can be a good strategy, although in the case of “Terribly Happy” I have to confess I was annoyed as often as I was intrigued.
The rivalry between Robert and the town bully does lead to one of the strangest showdown sequences in the history of westerns (or quasi-westerns): they belly up to the bar and engage in an epic drink-off, slugging back beer after beer in a very odd ritual of one-upmanship.
Hard to picture John Wayne or Clint Eastwood participating in exactly that kind of battle, but maybe it’s just a natural offshoot of the amount of rotgut consumed in westerns.
I look forward to seeing how they handle it in the remake, if only because this version settles too easily for sheer weirdness rather than insight; the film’s motto might be, “If David Lynch can get away with it, why shouldn’t we?” But only David Lynch can get away with some things.