Remember how you laughed when you saw the Christopher Guests’ mockumentary Best in Show? Documentarian Nicole Lucas Haime thought she’d try a real-life version, but replacing the obsessive dog breeders with chicken breeders. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but in this case it proves not to be funnier.
Chicken People sounds like great fodder for comedy, but of course, it all depends on how funny your subjects are. In this case, director Haime doesn’t have a lot to play.
She focuses on three chicken farmers. Crossover jazz crooner Brian Caraker, looking a bit like a young Luke Perry, loves breeding leghorns but has to spend too much time away from the farm sustaining his career as a singer. It’s clear he isn’t going to be the eventual champion of prize shows, but Haime obviously thinks he’s the closest thing to a colourful character the film is going to have. Then there’s fastidious middle-aged engineering geek Brian Knox, who takes the science of breeding chickens to the nth degree. Finally, there’s mother of five, Shari McCollough, who treats her silkies like they’re part of the family.
At film’s beginning you can’t help but be impressed, a little gobsmacked even, at the sheer majesty of the chickens on show. Magnificent plumage, startling combs, and such a surprising diversity of breeds. The novelty wears off after about ten minutes, and what you’re left with is a long build up to a hallowed chicken show that all the competitors are hell-bent on doing well in.
There isn’t a lot of exploration or insight into their backstories, there’s no drama to the build up, and there’s surprisingly little that’s genuinely amusing. After a while you just wish these people would find something more useful to do with their time than cage birds, blow dry their feathers and oil their beaks.
While the three human subjects share a single-mindedness that goes beyond dabbling in a hobby, none could truly be described as kooky. For that Haim relies on more eccentric breeders who we see in a studio setting with their prized foul. The camera occassionally cuts to them, sharing stories that demonstrate their rather extreme behaviour towards their companions, such as putting nappies on their chickens so they can stay inside the family home.
I didn’t care much about these people and I didn’t care about their chickens.
It may sound amusing on paper, but this is just another retread of the formula used in much better competition docos like Spellbound and First Position.
This is a slight, inconsequential film, and thoroughly uninspiring, despite a last-ditch attempt at the end to turn it into something inspirational.
Chicken People is currently in limited release
Richard Leathem @dickiegee