J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Frank & Lola: Michael Shannon in Vegas and Paris

Surely, Paris is a more romantic city than Las Vegas, right? Believe it or not, a damaged couple will meet and fall in love in Sin City, despite both having history in the City of Light. At least it feels like love for a while. Their relationship will take a dark turn in Matthew Ross’s Frank & Lola (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Of all the struggling restaurants in Las Vegas, Lola walks into Frank’s on Halloween night. They immediately feel a kinship between lost, lonely souls. What starts as a likely one-night stand blossoms against the odds into the romance of a lifetime. Even though Frank is somewhat prone to jealousy and understandably bitter about the failure of his restaurant, things are good between them, until one fateful day.

There will be no getting around the fact that she cheated on him. However, once Frank settles down, he discovers more of the surrounding context. Apparently, Lola once again succumbed to the Svengali-like power her mother’s Parisian friend Alan holds over her. Although he is a celebrated memoirist in Europe, Alan is really a sexual predator, who raped Lola at a point when she was highly malleable emotionally and psychologically. Or so she tells Frank. He will start to have his doubts when he confronts the smooth-talking playboy in Paris.

Frankly, Frank & Lola feels like two entirely different films depending on which city Frank finds himself in. The Las Vegas scenes he shares with Lola are darkly seductive and potently redolent of lust and jealousy. Every development of their fraught relationship rings true. In contrast, the pseudo-noir revenge sequences in Paris largely feel forced and excessively lurid. They are just off compared to the moody but grounded Vegas passages.

Regardless, Michael Shannon just puts on a masterclass as Frank. He raises brooding to a high art form and forges some believably flawed but viscerally charged chemistry with Imogen Poots’ Lola. Unfortunately, she remains largely passive throughout the film, which is problematic. Likewise, Michael Nyqvist more-or-less hits the replay button on his portrayal of the literary cradle-robber in The Girl in the Book.

Arguably, the biggest star of F&L after Shannon is cinematographer Eric Koretz, who gives the proceedings a sheen that evokes classic 1970s hothouse dramas. He also captures the alien vibe of Las Vegas, especially for those who are not interested in gambling. Ross goes for the sort of genre ambiguity you often find in the films of André Téchiné, which is laudably ambitious, but the smarminess of some of the Parisian scenes pulls him up a bit short. It is flawed, but its adult sensibility probably makes it worth catching up with on DVD or VOD streaming. For Shannon’s diehard partisans, it opens tomorrow (12/9) in New York, at the Village Eastand releases on iTunes.

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