Editor’s Notes: Copenhagen is out in limited release tomorrow, October 3rd.
When Jeremy (Sebastian Armesto) brings his British fiancée Jennifer (Olivia Grant) along on a European trip to search for the extended family of his best friend William (Gethin Anthony), he surely didn’t expect it to trigger fits of jealousy and resentment in William. “She sucks,” William says about Jennifer, “And not in a good way.” It’s not only contradictory to what we’ve seen, but an immature thing for a guy pushing 30 to do, but William is nothing if not immature, which is why he ends up alone in Copenhagen, abandoned by his friends and with no information about his own family save a 70-year-old letter written in Danish, a language he cannot read.
Cranky, helpless and entitled, William is a wholly unappealing man, and it’s a mystery why adorable local girl Effy (Frederikke Dahl Hansen) agrees to help him with his quest …
Cranky, helpless and entitled, William is a wholly unappealing man, and it’s a mystery why adorable local girl Effy (Frederikke Dahl Hansen) agrees to help him with his quest, especially after he berates and insults her. Effy tells him that the letter, written by his father as a little boy, says he hopes that one day he’ll have a son of his own to tour Copenhagen as he once did. Thus the pair head off to a series of landmarks for photographs, their travel broken up with interminable scenes of karaoke and spontaneous discussions of love. A little romance begins to blossom, but there’s one small catch: Effy is 14 years old.
It wasn’t so long ago that the unappealing manchild archetype was relegated to sitcoms and cinematic comedies or, in a few intriguing examples, found in the horror genre. The modern Bildungsroman, however, has moved away from the classic format of showing transition from childhood to adulthood, instead focusing on emotionally stunted but fully grown men who struggle to become functioning adults. If Copenhagen, the latest from writer-director Mark Raso, is any indication, behavior that was considered farce in Big (1988) is commonplace today, and boys no longer yearn to become men; instead, men are desperate to remain little boys in every aspect of their lives, save sexually.
Copenhagen is less a movie than it is a series of ridiculous, exploitative and frankly offensive moments disguised as a meditation on family and maturity. Effy, a 14-year-old who parties like she’s a troubled 24-year-old rock star with a drinking problem, just happens to have all the right skills, friends and relatives to help William find his long-lost grandfather. That grandfather is, incomprehensibly, a convicted Nazi war criminal on the lam, though moments after this early reveal, it’s equivocal whether either the characters or the filmmakers remember that good old Grandpa was a Nazi at all; if they do remember, they certainly don’t care.
Copenhagen is less a movie than it is a series of ridiculous, exploitative and frankly offensive moments disguised as a meditation on family and maturity.
That’s because the idea of William searching for his family roots was never meant to be more than a flimsy excuse to drag actors from one tourist location to the next. William is, inadvertently, your stereotypical ugly American, a man actively irritated by any culture not his own, and he spends the entire film immersed in a series of tantrums and other bad behavior triggered by the tiniest of inconveniences. When he’s not committing petty theft, he’s harassing the locals, fighting in the streets or, most notably, contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The only way William can engage with the city of Copenhagen is if he considers it, as the filmmakers apparently do, as a magical land of nubile 14-year-old girls, all wise for their age and itching to rip their tops off the moment a disaffected American dudebro pays them any kind of attention. That’s creepy enough, but part of William’s emotional growth hinges on him becoming a perverse kind of father figure to Effy, which leads to an astonishing scene in the second act where the film, completely unintentionally, stages a fist fight between William and Effy’s stepfather that plays like two sexual predators fighting over an underaged girl.
There’s a twisted kind of logic in creating a 30-year-old character so immature that he finds himself sexually attracted to a young teen, but it’s an idea Copenhagen fails to really explore. It’s not that William believes he’s the center of the universe, it’s that the film believes it, too. Everything in the film, every building and prop and character and line of dialogue, revolves around William in an ouroboros of social privilege that eats its own tail the moment Jeremy comes crawling back with the news that Jennifer was the duplicitous, disloyal bitch William had pegged her as all along.
Copenhagen displays a terrible lack of control of the filmmaking process. It’s a fine-looking film, but there are haphazard edits, surely meant to keep the film from playing like a travelogue, which instead mangle the geography of the town to a distracting degree. Dahl Hansen gives a striking performance and is the one true joy to be found in the film, but her work is undermined by poor editing and amateurish performances from her older costars. Copenhagen is a sloppy, indulgent mess of a movie, a film that, like its main character, thinks it’s far more important than it is.
Copenhagen is a sloppy, indulgent mess of a movie, a film that, like its main character, thinks it's far more important than it is.