The dog-show subculture Christopher Guest satirized in Best in Show has nothing on the absurdity Nicole Lucas Haimes captures in her new documentary Chicken People: that of poultry farmers who breed their animals for show-chicken competitions. Three central figures emerge in Haimes’s film: Brian Caraker, a Sixties-revival-show singer when he’s not indulging his poultry obsession; Brian Knox, an engineer who builds race-car engines; and Shari McCollough, a housewife for whom chickens were a deliverance from her alcoholism and depression.
McCollough’s backstory is poignant and distinctive. Otherwise, though, Haimes seems less interested in examining this unfamiliar world and the people involved than in shoving them into feel-good platitudes about following your dreams. A more curious filmmaker might have probed Caraker more deeply about his troubled high-school years, the self-esteem issues he says he still deals with even now, and how they bear on his current zeal for raising chickens.
Haimes’s larger failure in Chicken People, however, is in never finding much of a compelling reason for us to care about this subculture beyond surface geek-show intrigue. Caraker says raising animals is, for him, a “spiritual experience.” If only Haimes had figured out a way to viscerally convey this to us rather than just presenting these people for our bemused delectation. Instead, a montage of various chicken owners commenting on whether or not they look like their chickens indicates the level of insight the film offers.
Directed by Nicole Lucas Haimes
Opens September 23, Village East