Bunny Chow is an intimate movie. It brings the viewer very close to the three protagonists and the world they inhabit in post-Apartheid South Africa. The humor of the film flows from what the viewer comes to know, like and dislike about these friends. It comes from our knowledge of them and how they react to their world and to each other. This is not a fast moving film or a laugh a minute clown fest, but for those with some patience it is very rewarding.
The story, and there really is not much to the story, of Bunny Chow revolves around three friends: Kagiso, Joey and Dave, played respectively by Kagiso Lediga, Joey Yusuf Rasdien and David Kibuuka. (The common names of actors and characters plus the fact that Rasdien and Kibuuka are co-writers adds to the impression that the film is more than just a little autobiographical, a fact borne out by review of the extra material available on the disc.) These three are friends and aspiring comedians, Kagiso and Joey doing so full time with Dave trying, with limited success, to break in.
It takes a while for things to get going. The first half of the movie is spent developing the characters and their relationships together. We see how Kagiso and Joey casually belittle Dave's comedic abilities and appeal to women, and constantly try to steal away his dates. Kagiso declares his undying love to his girlfriend Kim, played by Kim Engelbrecht, but regularly goes on dates and has sex with other women. Dave at times is painfully unfunny, though incredibly earnest, in his efforts at comedy. Joey, a semi-observant Muslim, is having romantic problems of his own, and his girlfriend will secretly serve him pork as revenge after their fights. This portion of the film, though fascinating, is rather slow moving. The pace, and the humor, pick up considerably in the second half of the film when the three friends, along with an acquaintance named Cope, played by Jason Cope, head on a road trip to Oppi Koppi, the largest music festival in South Africa.
The film jumps here from an intimate character study of three friends to a road trip movie complete with eccentric strangers met along the way, attempted and successful sexual dalliances and people being chased off with shotguns. A final transition is made when the four young men make it to Oppi Koppi and engage in their various pursuits of standup comedy, chasing after women and experimenting with drugs. There are a number of laugh out loud moments here, and not from jokes or gags. The humor arises from the misadventures and idiosyncrasies of these friends. Several plot lines introduced earlier wrap up in the last half, but the filmmakers do not pull any punches or play out the characters in unbelievable or inconsistent ways. There is never a false note or a moment in which the viewer asks himself why anyone would act that way. The style of the film is very much documentary like, and the dialogue very naturalistic and unpolished in a way that makes it seem very off the cuff, like what might be heard in a real world conversation. It is very reminiscent of a Christopher Guest film, though not played for laughs and populated with actual human beings instead of comedic caricatures.
Viewers expecting to get buckets of laughs won't find them in Bunny Chow, though it is at times quite funny. Its appeal lies elsewhere, mostly in the fascinating and genuinely likeable people which are presented. The story is simply a frame on which to hang their interactions, or a backdrop which throws their character into sharper relief. A real sense of these people is developed, and we want them to succeed, but we understand exactly why they fail when they do. In this case, the plot serves solely to highlight the people acting it out. This is a somewhat slow to develop film that is worth the wait for the payoff. Not for everyone, but definitely recommended for those with patience.