Review: Frank & Lola (Sundance)
PLOT: A Las Vegas chef (Michael Shannon) falls in love with an enigmatic young woman (Imogen Poots). Soon, his love turns to obsession when he uses a business trip to Paris as an opportunity to confront an abusive former lover of hers (Michael Nyqvist).
REVIEW: Anyone who consistently reads my reviews knows that I’m a huge Michael Shannon fan. I can watch the guy in anything, even something like COMPLETE UNKNOWN, a Sundance selection that underwhelmed me a few days ago. FRANK & LOLA finds Shannon cast to perfection and at the top of his game. While his trademark intensity has become almost comic, when he turns on the menace Shannon can be pretty unsettling, and FRANK & LOLA lets him go full-on into a disturbed part that plays out like a mini LAST TANGO IN PARIS.
While Poots and Shannon seem an unlikely pair, this works to the film’s favor. The two aren’t supposed to seem quite right together, with Poots significantly younger, and Shannon never known for playing romantic leads. However, his part as Frank - a successful Las Vegas chef in thrall to this younger woman - proves to be one of his better parts in awhile.
To director Matthew Ross’s credit, both titular characters are three-dimensional, with it never quite clear whose head games are the worst. While Frank seems like a loving boyfriend, he gets insanely jealous at the slightest provocation, especially when he starts working for a wealthy playboy (Justin Long) - even when Long makes aggressive efforts to befriend Shannon including setting up a career making job interview for a French restaurateur.
As for Lola, she seems to relish having Frank around her finger, and when she’s caught cheating on Frank she tries to justify her behavior by telling him she was once raped by an ex-boyfriend of her mom’s (Nyqvist). As a result, Frank goes into a near homicidal rage, traveling to Paris and confronting the man, although the resolution proves to less clear-cut than you’d think given the lead-up.
Significantly, both Frank and Lola keep the audience’s sympathy. Even if their relationship is toxic, for some strange reason you want them patch things up and live happily ever after. This is nuts considering how crazy they both are, but Ross makes it work. Perhaps the reason is that he seems to have real insight into the way jealousy works, with it becoming a kind of psychosexual noir as Shannon lurks through the shadowy streets of Paris, perhaps murderously.
One thing that’s significant about FRANK & LOLA is that it’s a legitimately serious film about sex, something that’s increasingly rare these days. Usually sexy films wind up as fluff (FIFTY SHADES OF GREY) or slapstick. This one is more in the vein of sexy thrillers like 9 1/2 WEEKS, BASIC INSTINCT and FATAL ATTRACTION. Ross has a really sharp eye, with it having a rich, sophisticated look that gives the film studio-level production values. The acting - of course - is superb with Shannon getting a showcase part that plays to his strengths. Poots is similarly good, and has been really making a name for herself lately following her amazing turn in GREEN ROOM.
FRANK & LOLA is a nice late Sundance treat. It’s a sexy, adult thriller that doesn’t pander and never feels artificial. This one will likely find an appreciative audience and makes for a promising debut for writer/director Ross.