Cinema Review: Frank and Lola | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, October 20th, 2020  

Frank and Lola

Studio: Universal Pictures / Paladin
Directed by Matthew Ross

Dec 07, 2016 Web Exclusive
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Watching Michael Shannon act is like catching sight of an iceberg in the distance. As coldly restrained as he appears, sooner or later the entire film will crash against imposing depths hidden below. Frank & Lola makes good use of this weaving two countries, a heavy dose of noir, and simmering romance around the title characters.

For his debut feature, writer/director Matthew Ross displays formidable knowledge of noir conventions. It’s no surprise given he worked for years as a film journalist. Frank & Lola is packed full of shadowy shots, uncontrollable men, unreliable women, and a mixture of high life and low morals. All that’s really changed from the post-war heyday of the style is the explicitness with which sex can be displayed and discussed.

Ross opens with Las Vegas chef Frank (Michael Shannon) lying on Imogen Poots’ topless fashion student Lola, engaging in behavior that would have drawn opprobrium from censors back in the day. It’s new and conventional love at first as they date at top Vegas restaurants. A skilled chef, albeit an unemployed one seeking new opportunities, Frank can get in anywhere. Although much younger, Lola is also at something of a crossroads, attempting to figure out what to do now her fashion course is complete. A chance meeting in a bar with Justin Long’s entrepreneur changes both their lives, revealing darker truths in the process. A victim of abuse, Lola’s left scarred by a man (Michael Nyqvist) from her past who maintains a hold. Frank is consumed by more straight-forward jealously that comes out in the form of brooding silences and barely contained violence. He latches onto Lola’s bleak revelations, spotting a chance to enact a revenge she neither expects nor asks for.

Shannon is fantastic throughout. He’s charming in a gruff way, sticking up for Lola against her boozy mother while disarming the situation at the same time. It’s easy to see why she likes him before he begins a steep descent into all-consuming rage that nearly swallows them both. He uses slight tics and subtle gestures to get across Frank’s growing unease, building steadily until he breaks out his unhinged, bug-eyed persona that truly terrifies. It would have been hard for Poots to match him even with a level playing field. As it is, Ross deals her a weak hand, robbing Lola of agency. She gets her name in the title, and becomes the object fought over by more than one man, but she is, in the second half in-particular, reduced to just that: an object. From a prominent beginning she slides out of sight, replaced by Frank adventuring to Paris, the site of her previous abuse. By reducing Lola, the romantic element subsides, muting the overall impact. Even with too much focus on the former character, Frank & Lola, buoyed by Shannon’s performance and Ross’ acute eye for the seediness of his environments, is a commendable debut, full of enough promise to suggest there’s a lot more to come from this director.

Author rating: 6.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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