FRANK & LOLA (2016) review
written by: Matthew Ross
produced by: Jay Van Hoy, John Baker, Christopher Ramirez, Christine Vachon & Lars Knudsen
directed by: Matthew Ross
runtime: 88 min.
U.S. release date: January 27, 2106 (Sundance Film Festival) and December 9, 2016 (limited, VOD, iTunes and Amazon)
Michael Shannon has starred in ten movies released in 2016 (that is, if you count his bagged and tagged lifeless body in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice“). But seriously: Ten! The guy is working as if he’s been given an expiration date only he knows about. It’s impressive and understandable, considering he’s one of the most intense and recognizable actors working today. I haven’t seen everything he’s done, although that’s not a bad goal, but I’m getting the idea he would do well to vary it up a little and maybe take a role that plays against what he’s known for. That doesn’t quite happen in “Frank & Lola”, the feature-length debut of film critic Matthew Ross, and while we do get another intense performance from Shannon in this psychosexual neo-noir, it’s just not enough.
Frank Reilly (Shannon) is a talented chef who’s bounced around fancy hotels and restaurants in Las Vegas, who serves a dish for one particular young patron who catches his eye (that stoney side stare of Shannon’s) and soon he is connected with Lola (Imogen Poots), an aspiring fashion designer. Well, “connected” is a light way to describe it. Frank is obsessed with Lola. Remember the lyrics to “Every Breath You Take” by The Police? That’s Frank with Lola – and we get the impression, with any girl. In other words, he’s overprotective and paranoid of her every action – any call or text she receives, Frank is on her with a piercing “Who was that?” Any guy she talks to other than him is followed up with a “Who’s that a-hole?”, leaving mistrust to be this guy’s default.
We see such mistrust when Frank spots Lola having a conversation in a hotel bar. Just the sight of his girlfriend talking to another guy – in this case, a harmless businessman, Keith (a miscast Justin Long) who spins a failed flirtation into a job prospect for Lola – sets Frank off. If Lola had the confidence and self-worth to kick Frank to the curb, she’d be better off, it’s clear – but, that’s not this movie. Keith does indeed turn out to be the owner of a local fabrics business Lola gets hired at and, through some high-end connections, does Frank a solid and books him a flight to Paris in order audition for a top restaurateur. Frank is taken aback by the opportunity (maybe every guy Lola talks to isn’t an a-hole!) and jumps at the opportunity to make an impression that could advance his career.
However, Frank plans on looking up a certain someone while he’s in Paris. During a recent argument with an emotional Lola, he learned that she was sexually assaulted in the not-too-distant past by author Alan (Michael Nyqvist), a supposed friend of the family, she was staying with while studying abroad. Infuriated by this information, Frank sets out to make Lola’s assailant pay for what he’s done, but the additional information he learns complicates their short-lived relationship even further.
“Frank & Lola” opens with the two having sex, which is always somewhat of an odd way to introduce characters in a movie. It communicates a focus on what characters are doing without knowing who they are, leaving us merely get to know their naked bodies instead of whether or not this is a one-night stand or a married couple or what. Ross and cinematographer Eric Koretz (who last lensed 2014’s “Comet” also with Justin Long) spend a good deal of time with the camera on Poot’s nipples, which is followed by glimpses into how these two met and how they wound up rolling in the sack. Still, these scenes don’t really confirm why these two are together. What is it that drew them together? If it’s just looks and carnal kicks, I get it, but revolving an entire movie around two characters for that reason isn’t enough to keep an audience satiated.
The big problem right away is the obvious lack of connection between these two. Also: they just don’t look right together. Maybe that seems shallow, but we are visual people and Ross opened his film with pure visuals. Shannon, is in his mid-forties and has always had this old soul look about him, whereas, Poots could pass for late teens, yet she’s in her late twenties. Maybe its shallow of me, I know, but I couldn’t help thinking about an alternate plot where Poots plays Shannon’s niece who comes to Vegas seeking help from her expert chef uncle after a pervy ex-professor of hers wants to reconnect with her. That’d be an interesting “Frank & Lola” – instead, I’m left wondering how these two got together, why are they staying together and what’s in going to take to see them break-up.
For what it’s worth, both lead actors are fine here. Shannon and Poots are some of my favorite actors working today (her dance card is almost as busy as his!), but the screenplay here by Ross does neither of them any favors. Shannon performance presents Frank as someone who really does try to either not say anything or at least say the right thing. We get the idea that he also knows the limitations of his own patience and has often failed in attempts at reigning in his rage and volatile emotions. Many times though, it feels like he’s playing Frank as a former gangster from New York who left “the business” in search of following his dream as a chef, but the gangster mentality never really shook off. There could’ve been an interesting back story there. Credit should be given to Poots for losing her British accent (something she also did successfully in this year’s “Green Room”) and subtlety revealing how dysfunctional and broken she is, while her character struggles with that realization. Nyquist comes in mid-film as a proposed antagonist, but very little is revealed about him and his penchant for kinky sexual antics, but he does have a great scene with Shannon, where he calls Frank out on the real reason the two have met. So, there are moments where the actors make the movie work, but the overall story and characterization just isn’t there for viewers to believably follow what’s going on.
Another actor who randomly appears early on is Rosanna Arquette, playing Lola’s mother Patricia, in a scene where she’s having dinner in a fancy Vegas restaurant with Lola and Frank. It was kind of odd for this scene to appear almost immediately after we’ve just met the two leads after they’ve presumably just met. Introducing a mother to a recently consummated relationship seems a bit rushed. The scene really only serves to establish that Frank will openly defend Lola at the drop of a hat, as seen when he shares his distaste for Patricia’s jabbing comment at her daughter’s current life choices. It’s clear there that Frank has attached himself to Lola, something we learn later on isn’t good for either of them.
There’s really no hope for Frank & Lola. When together they really do comes across as damaged goods. Neither of them seem content with themselves or who they are, so it’s hard to bring any hope to the couple’s future, especially with Frank’s strong disposition toward jealousy and rage. Ross has a confident handle on visuals, offering notable nods to noir conventions, but he could’ve benefited from a co-writer that would’ve allowed for some time to explain the draw between these two and possibly establish real chemistry between Frank and Lola.