A sort of Danish Marty—albeit with a bruiser instead of a mug in the lead—Mads Matthiesen’s Teddy Bear stars Kim Kold as a competitive bodybuilder who lives with his diminutive mother (Elsebeth Steentoft), who seems to spend her days conceiving ways to make him feel guilty. When Kold’s uncle returns from a trip to Thailand with a new wife, the painfully shy Kold figures this might be his own best chance to find a mate. But even during the planning stage of his vacation, Kold has to lie to Steentoft about where he’s going and why. And when he actually meets somebody, he has to decide whether holding onto the love of his life is worth the hassle of confronting his mom.
Matthiesen and his screenwriting collaborator Martin Zandvliet have given themselves a high degree of difficulty, saddling themselves with a reticent hero who can’t articulate what he wants. In the opening scene of Teddy Bear, for example, Kold is on a date with a woman he met at his gym, and the awkward silence between them is painful. (If Kold had a catchphrase, it would be a mumbled, “Sorry.”) But Matthiesen and Zandvliet communicate a lot between the lines—even in the way the allergic Kold orders shrimp with dinner, because he’s just nervously copying his date. Teddy Bear is full of those small, telling details. Without dwelling too much on it, Matthiesen shows how Kold eats—with a fridge full of eggs and a pantry full of protein powders—and how he’s subtly repulsed when nearly everyone he encounters in Thailand tries to coax him into sex, or at least bleed him of some of his money.
This careful crafting of Kold’s world and worldview pays off in the back half of Teddy Bear. After his humiliating introduction to the sleazy side of Thailand, Kold is finally able to relax and be himself when he visits a Pattaya gym, where he meets Lamaiporn Hougaard, a sweet, middle-aged woman who understands what makes sheepish hulks like Kold tick. There’s nothing surprising about the arc of Kold’s story, but Matthiesen and his cast have created a believable space, and that ultimately helps give Teddy Bear the tension of a fine suspense film once Kold sits down across the kitchen table from Steentoft to speak his mind at last.