2016 Film Essays

Weak Story Beats Muddle ‘Frank & Lola’

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Michael Shannon can be trusted as an actor. Sure, one could argue that his “get off my lawn” scowl remains as predictable as a grizzled Jeff Bridges character or one of Garrett Hedlund’s man-of-the-road types, but there’s a tremendous amount of depth in Shannon’s facial tweaks, complemented by his gentle and sometimes terrifying vocal intonations. He IS one of the most interesting actors alive. But a weak script may neutralize such talent, evidenced by Matthew Ross’ disjointed 2016 feature, Frank & Lola.

Opening with a love scene between Shannon’s character (Frank) and Imogen Poots’ Lola, the film immediately establishes location (Las Vegas) and passion (hotel sex). Frank works as a chef in Sin City, and his new love interest warms up to his gruff yet inquisitive demeanor. And hey – the man can cook. There’s plenty of nervous energy between the pair, however a Parisian link brings them closer together, representing the first of many convenient plot devices used to overtly explain the characters’ behavior. In the first act, the evocative score and rich cinematography establishes the film’s overall mood (and Frank’s jealousy quickly becomes evident), but the specifics of the central love story remain unclear. Ross shows passion, but he doesn’t sell any bit of romance. Why do Frank and Lola have such intense chemistry? Because they had sex in the opening scene? Beyond the obvious jealousy, there’s little to fall back on.

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The inciting incident comes when a frazzled Lola shows up at Frank’s pad. Messy hair. Smeared makeup. Lola has made a big mistake. But rather than allowing Shannon and Poots to shine through dialogue and acting, writer-director Ross chops up the scene with a revelatory phone call — another convenient plot device to explain information to the viewer. In such a moment — a moment in which Frank seems legitimately concerned — it’s unfathomable that he would interrupt Lola to not only look at his phone but proceed to have a conversation with somebody else. BUT, the caller’s reveal pushes the plot forward (!), as Frank begins to question the men in Lola’s life and her Parisian backstory. Naturally, the lukewarm love affair leads Frank to Paris, where he confronts the mysterious Alan (Michael Nyqvist) — author, Lola’s former lover and a man that offers to show Frank around Paris (after a brief bar conversation). To be fair, there’s some underlying character elements that could explain such behavior, yet it does seem unlikely given Frank’s demeanor.

There’s plenty to appreciate in Frank & Lola, and it’s far from a bad film. However, the story beats feel awkward and random. As a character study, Frank could be viewed as a depressive figure — a man desperately in search of love — or he could have some major unresolved issues. In that regard, Ross succeeds by leaving some details to the imagination. In addition, his polished direction keeps the film together during some of the more questionable scenes. For example, it’s absurd that Alan would not only invite Frank to his Parisian home but somehow manage to immediately cue up private sex videos within seconds. That escalated quickly. These small issues persist throughout Frank & Lola, and they distract from what is mostly a decent film, large in part to Shannon’s layered performance. I may not watch Frank & Lola a second time, but I won’t forget how Shannon delivered the line “Yeah, that’d be cool” while speaking to Justin Long’s peppy character — a potential threat. Yeah, that’d be cool… (and maybe you should get the F outta my kitchen).

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With a little more focus on character motivation, Frank & Lola might’ve been one of 2016’s surprise hits. Unfortunately, the weak story beats and questionable plot devices distract from the positive aspects.

Q.V. Hough (@qvhough) is the founding editor of Vague Visages and a freelance script writer for WatchMojo. In 2004, he graduated from Concordia College (Moorhead, Minnesota) with bachelor degrees in Communication-Mass Media and History. From 2006 to 2012, Q.V. worked closely with ABC On-Air Promotions as the production manager for LUSSIER.TV and now resides in Fargo, North Dakota.

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