Frank & Lola
Over the centuries there have been innumerable studies exploring the relationship between men and women. Regardless of what hypothesis was tested or which statistical data was accumulated and analyzed, there is one cardinal truth that is impossible to refute; men will act extremely irrationally for a woman. This axiomatic truth has been the basis for storytelling from around campfires to the advanced cinematic technology we currently enjoy. With such a plethora of examples, the range of quality is understandably broad. Occupying a position near the middle of that range is the film under consideration, ‘Frank & Lola.' It is a strong, well-crafted piece of entertainment that must be viewed after the minors of the household have gone to bed. Many genres apply to categorize this movie, crime thriller, mystery, film noir and drama but the one that appears to best relate to the themes presented in the story is psychosexual. This description is a common subset that contributes to the definition of film noir, but this film goes considerably beyond that. While watching, I have reminded of a film from a substantial number of years ago, ‘Body Heat.' In 1981 that movie was considered as risqué, perhaps controversial but in the 36 intervening years a significant paradigm shift in social acceptability has lessened the impact of those particular terms, but overall the content works in the intended fashion. What is truly noteworthy about this movie is that infused throughout the sensuality and intense psychological interactions it remains a romance, albeit an unusual one.
Frank (Michael Shannon), lives in Las Vegas working as a chef in a high-end restaurant. He is regarded as exceptionally talented yet possessing a decidedly sullen personality. As implied by the title Frank is drawn into the life of a beautiful young woman, Lola (Imogen Poots) resulting in an immediate mutual attraction. Frank relies on his culinary prowess to impress Lola, a ploy that is successful. That relationship rapidly progresses into an intensely sexual liaison. Frank realizes that a young woman of such beauty and intrinsic sensuality is going to draw the attention of every man she encounters, but he attempts to quell his insecurity by rationalizing that she chose to be with him. The cocoon of wishful thinking he wove around himself shattered when Lola arrives one night entirely distraught. Lola confesses to Frank that she has cheated on him. Frank reacts much as expected but Lola begins to explain what drove her to such behavior. She explains years ago she was brutally raped. That resulted in deep-seated psychological scars that have ruined her ability to for emotionally stable relationships. It has also driven her to seek constant validation through sex. Frank begins to justify the cheating as not his fault by shifting the blame to that rapist. These thoughts churn in his mind until they overwhelm him as an unshakable obsession. As people enter into relationships, it is common to bring along a certain amount of emotional baggage, but in this instance, a steamer trunk would be required to contain it. Due to his extraordinary talents in the kitchen, Frank is chosen to cook in a very prestigious restaurateur in Paris. His excitement at the prospect went beyond the professional accolades and self-gratification when he discovers that Lola’s rapist was there. Frank’s obsession shifts into high gear have imagining killing the man responsible for Lola’s emotional distress to the formulation for first-degree murder. An event that should have been a personal and professional pinnacle for Frank spirals into a psychological prison of revenge and jealousy?
Director/ screenwriter Matthew Ross has built his career thus far with some short films consisting of mostly dramas with a comedy included for good measure. This opus is his freshmen effort working on a feature film which demonstrates considerable potential for artistic growth. Frequently a filmmaker specializing in short movies encounters a degree of difficulty in maintaining a consistent narrative for the duration of an average movie. Mr. Ross addresses this concern, to a certain extent, by restricting the running time to 88 minutes. His prior experience did afford him with the ability to tell the story efficiently. The pacing moves the film along inexorably capturing the attention of the audience. The sensual components of the movie are solidly established soon after the film opens with a steamy, explicit sex scene seconds after the Universal globe, and several production logos have faded from the screen. Once the audience is vested in the movie, Mr. Ross goes directly into the most important aspect of relating this story, establishing baselines for the titular characters. Frank is shown to be less than upbeat, happiest only when he is in his element, in charge of his kitchen. His level of confidence outside of that controlled environment is flimsy, but he is show taken by Lola’s entrancing gaze when they meet at the hotel bar, a classic plot device for launching a connection between a man and women, but Mr. Ross throws in a nicely played twist. Using a meal in place of the requisite offer of a drink does more than providing an appreciated change of pace. It demonstrates to the audience how Frank’s culinary brilliance is a defining aspect of his core personality. Later, when he receives an opportunity of a lifetime to showcase his skills for a person of significant influence his obsession overwhelms his thoughts so completely he has little concern for using the trip as a deadly mission of revenge.
Michael Shannon is an exceeding talent performer with an eclectic range and chameleon-like ability to wear his character as one would a favorite pair of jeans, recently best known as the ultimate source of destruction in the DC cinematic universe, his portrayal of General Zod took arch villainy to an extreme level of intensity. His ability to effortless switch gears to portray Elvis in the biopic, ‘Elvis & Nixon’, a father on the run with a young boy in ‘Midnight Special ‘to a farmer with visions of an apocalypse in ‘Take Shelter.' Every time I see him in a film I find myself rechecking the credits, he is that creative in weaving a unique persona that at times it 's hard to imagine him in the vast variety of roles. Imogen Poots has been steadily honing her craft since she was a child appearing in films such as ‘V for Vendetta.' Much of her work has been in the world of independent film where she was given the opportunity to stretch her range with a variety of parts. To her credit, and most likely that of her management, the majority of those characters depended on Ms. Poots inherent abilities as an actress and not just a result of her beauty. In this movie, she had the opportunity to combine both qualities as she plays the film noir femme fatale to near perfection. She has managed to be cast in several horror films yet thankfully avoided the pitfall of typecasting as a ‘Final Girl.'
The most significant shortcoming of the film was overreaching. Mr. Ross made a choice to juxtapose some genres each of which presenting their level of difficulty. Keeping the running time was a widely considered move, but it came at the expense of giving each thematic component of the story ample the opportunity to be fully explored. This misstep is quite understandable and forgivable. What does come out of this film is the great potential as a filmmaker Mr. Ross possesses. I greatly look forward to following as he continues to build upon his career.