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Chicken People, A Documentary About Good Cock

Everyone has an obsession that teeters along the strange. We might simply be a hyper-fan or too tied up in hysteria to see ourselves as such but outsiders can easily point out that the obsession is not normal.

This is the core premise of many great documentaries: Make Believe did this for kids who are into magic, Spellbound did this for spelling bee enthusiasts, I Think We’re Alone Now did this for Tiffany fans, Best Worst Movie did this for Troll 2 fans, and even Casting JonBenét seemed to do this for “fans” of the 1990s crime. We love these films because they embody the reality that Best In Show made a joke of: people so in love with a subject that they sometimes lose themselves in it.

To add to this canon, consider Chicken People. It’s a documentary that follows a handful of people who raise poultry with the intention of taking them to agricultural shows with the hopes of their bird taking the prize of top cock (or hen). It’s a funny look at a farm adjacent world.

The film sucks you in with a stellar cast of three kooky characters: there’s Brian Knox, a drag racing engineer who has an impressive pedigree of pretty birds but lives a lonely life searching for his chicken wife; Shari McCollough, a mother who finds chickens to be a source of joy in an incredibly complicated life that the film gently reveals to viewers; and Brian Caraker, a fascinating Missouri based musical theatre star who is successful on stage but seeks to be successful in the coop. Each of these people have dreams of winning but their simple yet complicated lives often get in the way. Their struggles are our struggles.

Chicken People is one of the more successful superfan films since it effectively balances stylish education in an area with slowly raising stakes for each character. Directed by Nicole Lucas Haimes, the story is crafted with a unique give-and-take in sharing attention for talent while balancing unexpected challenges like bird flu shutting down the biggest competition of the year that the film was leading up to. Instead of shrugging off the cancelation as loss, Lucas Haimes embraced it to find an ending that turns away from the obvious. These films typically end with the underdog succeeding and, while that doesn’t entirely happen, there is a sense that some small magic happened that enabled the film to be.

If anything, Chicken People is ridiculous, voyeuristic fun. It’s intellectual content that requires so little of viewers, making for a film that is accessible to all audiences. (Unsurprisingly, the film was distributed by CMT, the Country Music Television.) You might not want to get into competitive chicken showing but you will certainly think about chickens as much more beautiful, complicated creatures than previously thought. Accordingly, the people who love them are similarly as nuanced.

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