Frank & Lola (2016) Film Review from the 59th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival, a movie directed by Matthew Ross, and starring Imogen Poots, Michael Shannon, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette, Michael Nyqvist, and Elisha Yaffe.
A reserved man gets into a relationship with an outgoing woman who has a troubled and mysterious past that he seeks to get to the bottom of. As he learns more and more, he realizes that the woman – and by extension their relationship – is not all she seems. It’s a simple story that’s been told many before, but in deft hands, it can feel as if it were being told for the first time all over again. Add some great actors into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a truly intriguing film. Matthew Ross’s Frank & Lola is just such a movie, offering a novel take on the old set-up and presenting viewers with potent performances on the part of the cast.
The standout performance comes from none other than Michael Shannon, who portrays the titular Frank. Despite being a skilled chef, Frank is a quiet, imposing fellow who appears to be more at home in the shadows of the streets than in the lights of the kitchen. Numerous scenes showing him standing stoically and silently as excited, well-off types gush over him and amongst themselves accentuate the obvious disconnect between the rough New Yorker with an almost thuggish bearing and the glitzy world he finds himself in on account of his occupation.
Just as Frank finds himself working for people he otherwise would never speak to, he also finds himself deeply involved with someone he probably shouldn’t be involved with. When the striking young Lola (Poots) enters his life, she tries her best to bring Frank out of his impossibly hard shell, but that’s easier said than done when her bubbly ways make him suspect that she is cheating on him. This initially brings him into conflict with Keith (Long), a fortunate son who overlooks Frank’s clear dislike for him and gets him an audience before a well-paying client, but after Lola reveals a traumatic experience she previously underwent – being raped by her father Alan (Nyqvist) – he uses his trip to meet with his client as a pretext to hunt down the lecherous author and punish him for his unspeakable crime.
When he finally corners Alan and pulls a knife on him, however, the alleged rapist throws a curveball Frank’s way. Producing and playing a tape in which he records Lola engaging in sexual acts with another woman before moving onto him, Alan suggests that rather than being raped by him, his daughter managed to seduce him , as he claims – and Frank believes – she did to so many other men. Not that any of this minimizes Alan’s contemptible nature: withdrawn from the intellectual circles he once traveled in and resigned to his lonely station, the would-be literary giant contents himself with chasing women in places of ill-repute. One can’t help but notice similarities between the disgraced writer and Frank, with a scene in which the distraught chef accompanies Alan to a strip club and goes home with two women possibly serving as a peek into a future where Frank becomes like his girlfriend’s father. In any case, Frank struggles to come to terms with this revelation and continues his search for the truth about Lola.
Within a relatively short period of time, Frank & Lola is able to not only deliver a major plot twist, but to execute it very well. This is something that other films with much longer running times, to say nothing of much bigger budgets, fail to do on a regular basis. Shannon shines as Frank, who is easily one of cinema’s most inscrutable and indomitable characters since Lee Marvin’s Walker of Point Blank fame, and the devious Nyqvist and the distressed Poots excellently complement his character. Everybody from hardcore film fans to fair-weather movie-goers should watch Frank & Lola, lest they miss out on one of the year’s best movies so far.
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