Film Review: Chicken People

Far more enjoyable and entertaining than one might expect, but still feels redundant as it goes along.
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These days, documentaries can be found on just about every subject possible, with varying degrees of entertainment value. With a title like Chicken People, it’s hard not to be at least a little curious about Nicole Lucas Haimes’ film.

As the title implies, Chicken People is about people who own and breed chickens, specifically those who bring their prize chickens to shows like the Ohio National, essentially the Super Bowl for chicken breeders.

Haimes’ doc follows the breeders’ preparations in the seven months leading up to the Ohio National, as they try to get their birds as close to the “American Standard of Perfection” as possible, battling thousands of other chickens to be named “Super Grand Champion.” When the Ohio National is cancelled due to an avian flu scare, plans are changed as the chicken breeders prepare for the Dixie Classic in Knoxville, Tennessee instead.

If you’ve ever seen Christopher Guest’s “mockmentary” Best in Show, it’s next to impossible to watch Chicken People and take it very seriously, because these real-life chicken owners are just as strange and funny as that movie’s fictional dog owners.

At first, Chicken People comes across like any other competitive doc where we follow a small group of people on their way to the big show, and Haimes has managed to find quite an array of oddballs obsessed with their poultry, many of them interviewed with their prize chickens sitting in their lap.

None of them seems more obsessed with breeding the perfect poultry than Brian Knox, who calls his chickens by their genome number, as he goes to great lengths to create genetic perfection in his fowl. Other characters are equally distinctive, including one woman with a large family, whose chicken breeding helped her get over a drinking problem.

These people are so enthusiastic about their chickens that it will put a smile on your face, if not have you outright laughing. As strange as these people get, the chickens themselves are actually quite beautiful and enjoyable to watch. After watching these people and their chickens for a while, you might begin to realize that you’re quite enjoying the movie, maybe because there’s something calming about watching chickens for 79 minutes.

Haimes also spends some time showing what some of the film’s featured breeders do when they’re not caring for their chickens, whether it’s singing jazz or competing in tractor pulls, but that section of the film just isn’t as interesting.

A word of warning that it might not be a great idea to bring your animal-loving kids to the movie unless you want them to see some actual “animal loving” that might bear some explanation. (If you really want them to know where eggs come from, take them to see Storks.)

Even so, the movie is only interesting to a point, and once it passes that point you slowly begin to lose interest. That’s when it gets back to the actual competition, as we’re given the rather complicated classifications on which chickens are evaluated. It’s hard to remain as interested watching chickens being judged for miniscule deviations from the standard of perfection.

If nothing else, Chicken People is a doc made almost entirely for “edutainment” purposes with no overt political agenda, and it will have you laughing and learning something new about chickens that you never thought you’d need or want to know.

Click here for cast and crew information.