This Valentines Day I’m going to dissect a bad queer romcom and see what makes it tick. Shake It All About (aka En kort en lang) stars Mads Mikkelsen as a cad who cheats on his boyfriend with a married woman. The film tries to balance romcom shenanigans with ugly cruelty. This tonal whiplash left me wondering who the film was for.
Let’s break it down in a spoiler filled recap.
Act One: A Love Triangle
Scene One: A Birthday Party in Copenhagen
MADS MIKKELSEN (An architect): Jørgen, let’s get married!
JØRGEN (A guidance counselor): Anything for the birthday boy!
CAROLINE (Jørgen’s sister-in-law): I’m so happy for you!
(Mads and Caroline get drunk and make out.)
MADS: Wait. Am I bisexual?
Scene Two: Contrasting Work Days
RUDE BOSS: It’s so nice to have a token gay in the office.
MADS: Go to hell.
TWINK STUDENT: Mr. Jørgen, I want to thank you for all you’ve done. Personally.
JØRGEN: Sorry. I’m in a committed relationship. I would never compromise that.
Scene Three: An Affair
JØRGEN: I’m off to visit my parents. Kiss me goodbye?
MADS: Not in public.
PILOT (Jørgen’s brother and Caroline’s husband): I’m flying international. I won’t be home for ages.
CAROLINE: What else is new?
(Mads and Caroline sneak off and have sex.)
Act Two: Tonal Whiplash
Scene Four: An Accident
JØRGEN: Do you love her?
MADS: I don’t know.
(Jørgen has a drunken car accident and loses an eye!)
MADS: I’m so sorry. Do you need anything?
JØRGEN: An eye
Scene Five: Skating Rink
(Mads and Caroline go ice skating. Hold hands.)
MADS: It’s nice to show affection in public without being judged.
RUDE GAY FRIENDS: Yoo-hoo! What are you doing with that hussy!?
(Mads does prat falls on the ice.)
RUDE GAY FRIENDS: Nice to see some physical comedy. That eye thing really killed the mood.
Act Three: Romcom Tropes
Scene Six: Wedding
CAROLINE: I’m pregnant and my husband divorced me.
MADS: Let’s get married.
PRIEST: Do you Mads take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?
CAROLINE: Go to him. We’ll work out custody later.
Scene Seven: Chase
(Mads steals a policewoman’s horse and rides to the airport.)
MADS: STOP THAT PLANE! THE MAN I LOVE IS ON BOARD!
JØRGEN: Why should I trust you now?
MADS: How about I kiss you in public to show I’ve overcome my internalized homophobia?
JØRGEN: It’s a start. (They kiss.)
PILOT: I guess I’ll get back together with my pregnant ex-wife.
I Only Have Eyes for You
History was made… on October 1, 1989, when Denmark became the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to tie the knot.Pink News
The opening and closing scenes suggest a romantic farce. So do the cartoonish (mildly homophobic) gay friends. But the mid-stretch is full of violent arguments, tearful break downs and guilt-ridden hook ups. Plus, the whole thing with the eye.
Your feelings on adultery will color your reaction to the film. Most romcoms keep the leads single and the third wheel unsympathetic. If the rejected party is too sweet, as with Jørgen, then it makes the other two feel like villains. I had the same reaction to 2005’s Imagine Me and You. Piper Perabo leaves her husband, Matthew Goode, for Lena Headey. Goode was so sympathetic, and his heartbreak so devastating, that he upstaged the leads.
Some critics called the film bi-phobic. But Mads isn’t necessarily invoking the “greedy bisexual” trope. Instead, the film treats the affair as an escape. We see Mads endure homophobic treatment from strangers, co-workers and even his parents. He’s afraid (and ashamed) to show affection for Jørgen in public. Caroline meanwhile struggles to raise a child and complete her studies with no help from her absent (hard-working) husband. Their trysts let them try new identities. Until the pregnancy brings reality back.
In 2013 the story was adapted into a musical. Perhaps songs sweeten the sour tale. I can’t recommend the film to anyone but Mads Mikkelsen completists. They’ll get to see him kiss a man, ride a horse, and perform some pratfalls. Maybe that’s enough.