Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 09, 2016 5:20 pm 
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Psychosexual darkness swirls in Las Vegas and Paris

Is Frank (Michael Shannon) "pretty cool," as Lola (Imogen Poots) thinks, or pretty desperate? He is an American chef who dropped out of high school and saved up money making pizzas in Queens to go and learn cuisine in France. Matthew Ross's feature debut is pretty desirous of being bold and intense. It achieves that and a measure of oddity too. It piles on the emotions, using the age difference between this hotshot Las Vegas restauranteur played by the 41-year-old, worn-out looking Shannon and the aspiring fashion designer (Poots is 26) as the starting point for a plot focused on crazed jealousy and revelations of a twisted past. Its flirtation with neo-noir style leads to some questionable taste and there is some overly-tricky editing. The screenplay tips its hand a bit prematurely to Lola's background in sexual "games" and Frank's tendency to hate any man who even talks to her. But the important thing is that Shannon gets to be not just intense, neurotic, obsessive-compulsive, but sexy as well for a change this time, and Poots, after a succession of secondary roles, gets to chew scenery in a central one. Ross, who has a number of other filmmaking credits already, now may bear watching as a director, if he can get help with his screenplay next time.

The movie includes Rosanna Arquette as Lola's mom,, Justin Long as her new Vegas employer, Michael Nyquist (costar of the original "Dragon Tattoo" films) as her corrupt European influence and Emmanuelle Devos, elegant (and speaking English) in a small but key role as his wife. Knives and vegetables (if truffles are vegetables) play key roles too. Frank rolls back and forth from Vegas to Paris as easily as if it were Reno. Lola comes crying to Frank one night saying she's just had a meaningless one-night stand. Then she justifies it on the ground that she was raped by a man formerly involved with her mother.

The jealous passion gets curiously muted when Frank learns Lola was as much participant as victim. And corruption is muted by elegance - coldly posh restaurants, flats, and hotel rooms tinted yellow. - which keeps potentially lurid material from feeling too tacky. Unfortunately - and this is where this isn't noir at all or really good storytelling - the intensity keeps dropping and the screenplay practically cancels itself out by the end. You also may wonder why Frank, who despite good experience is relatively unknown has just landed a fabulous job at a major French restauranteur's new Vegas branch, is using up so much energy pursuing his girlfriend's devious sexual history. But then I guess top chefs have to be good at multitasking.

There are certainly some slip-ups. A bandage disappears from one shot to the next, and details of the Paris sequences seem a little off, such as the bad guy's address - wrong postal code. Shannon's French is awfully halting for a person who served years of apprenticeship in France in extreme youth. Certainlyh Frank gets a lot more attention than Lola, with her fashion career getting virtually ignored in the story. For that matter Imogen Poots - so feisty as a turncoat skinhead moll in Saulnier's Green Room - doesn't generate much electricity this time around It's hard to see what the rising chef and the degenerate magnate were so excited about.

Frank & Lola, 88 mins., debuted at Sundance, Jan. 2016. It was screened for this review at the SFIFF. Universal bought it for $2 million and opens theatrically beginning 9 Dec. 2016. Showing in NYC at City Cinemas Village East Cinema. Metacritic rating 56%. Opened in January in Northern California The New Parkway in Oakland.

Matthew Ross is not to be confused with actor Matt Ross, who debuted as director (also at Sundance) with t Captain Fantastic, which opened in theaters in July.

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