The way mentally challenged people are depicted on film is a mixed bag. For every great example, there are tens of horrible ones and entering any film that uses those issues as a central tenant is always a bit nerve wrecking. Thankfully, you can relax when sitting down to enjoy Chicken.
The film focuses on Richard (Scott Chambers), a young boy who lives in a caravan with his older brother Polly (Morgan Watkins). Via picking up the occasional odd job Polly earns enough money for them to survive but is abusive, both physically and verbally, towards Richard. Despite that, he’s a pretty happy guy. He spends his days wandering around the fields near his home with his best friend, Fiona, the chicken.
Into that world comes Annabell (Yasmin Page), a young girl from the big city who has been dragged out to the country by her family. She doesn’t want to be there and is quite frankly a bit of a brat. Despite that, she becomes Richard’s first friend, seemingly oblivious to his mental handicaps and instead just finding pleasure in his company.
Where this film stands or falls is in the performance of Scott Chambers. If he descends into parody or mocking, then the whole thing moves into the distasteful. Thankfully, he does nothing of the sort. Richard is an entirely sympathetic character, and I have to admit I was wholly convinced that Chambers suffered from these issues himself. Very quickly you feel protective of him as his naivety makes him unaware of how bad a person his brother is.
Which brings us to the second great performance in the film, Morgan Watkins as Polly. A pissed off and lost young man you understand that even if he is a horrible person he is in over his depth and he doesn’t know what to do. He needs help, and there is no one to provide it. That is until Annabell turns up who while annoying to begin with, quickly gains the audience’s sympathy with the care she shows towards Richard.
There are faults, a third act revelation doesn’t aid things and seems designed to shock rather than to further the plot. Despite that, director Joe Stephenson is balancing on a very dangerous tightrope and he finds his way to the other side. He has taken on some incredibly sensitive issues, and yet he handles them with a delicate touch. It means that Chicken is not always the easiest watch, but when it wraps itself up, you can’t help but shed a tear or two of joy.