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Sundance 2016: ‘Frank and Lola’ is a luridly appealing destructive romance

 

Frank & Lola
Directed and written by Matthew M. Ross
USA, 2016

Matthew Ross’ Frank and Lola is an all consuming tale of destructive romance. Luridly appealing, its dark recesses have a ring of truth to them even as they repulse. Chef Frank (Michael Shannon) falls for the vivacious Lola (Imogen Poots) and is immediately thrown into a relationship that feels cracked at its center. Their mutual feelings for each other are burdened by his jealousy. Her reticence and mystery only add to his covetous nature. Frank and Lola is an emotionally circuitous, sex-saturated film that’s sordid but realistic in terms of mistrust and fear of heartbreak.

The story makes good on the threat of infidelity that Tom Cruise’s character voyeuristically investigated in Eyes Wide Shut. Although devoid of masked cults- money, desire, and betrayal infect the romance from the start with seedy elements of the past intruding into the couple’s most intimate of moments. As they strive to achieve something pure, Frank pursues his instincts and anger with a frenzied ferocity that sends him into a spiral of psychological and physical retribution. An air of doom and compulsiveness hang over all of their interactions that constricts the audience’s enjoyment as we follow Frank down the rabbit hole of his worst nightmares. The movie is steeped in a sleaziness that is as sickening as it is involving. The sexuality is a tangled mess of shame, delicacy, tenderness, and animalistic acts.

Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, Bug, The Iceman) once again weaves his knack for subtly seething menace flawlessly into the narrative. His minute twitches expose a ticking time bomb, a few steps away from a shattered psyche that would have a hard time handling a regular romance let alone someone as hard to read as Lola. A brilliant chef who is used to finding perfection in the details of his work, Lola’s shadiness throws him for a loop. In this relationship, the closer he looks, the murkier and harder it all becomes to sort out or to make right. The specificity of what he has to know out of love and possessiveness drives him to solve everything by force. Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later, Filth) pulls her weight with Shannon, playing Lola with sly but meticulous deflections and recklessly confident sexual abandon.

At times Frank and Lola is too straightforward in its declarations and exposition of jealousy, but when it swings back around to ambiguity, it flourishes. Creative editing skews the morality and twisted seduction of the characters even more. Innocent sentiments go through the ringer to become an impassioned chaos of broken promises and a protracted resistance to the truth. The forfeiture of the typical highlights of a romance is Frank and Lola’s greatest asset even though it takes a little too long of a look into unseemly sex in order to make the story stand out. Bittersweet Frank and Lola is not for the faint of heart, although it does contain rays of hope in its impulsivity and melancholic deep connections. Like Frank, one has to look past a lot to find respite from the dirty inclinations of the world but if you find beauty in devastation, this might be a movie for you.


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