MOVIE REVIEW: 3, 2, 1...FRANKIE GO BOOM
It’s been a long time since an honest-to-goodness, madcap screwball comedy hit the big screen, but thanks to writer/director Jordan Roberts the void is now filled. Demonstrating great flair for comedic panache with his zany, crazy and oh-so-fun, 3, 2, 1...FRANKIE GO BOOM (can we get an “amen”?), at its core a love story of eclectic proportions, FRANKIE GO BOOM is rooted in honesty, sincerity and heart, but spreads its wings with a sometimes raunchy charm that explodes with laugh-out-loud comedy. Subtle underpinnings of societal commentary on everything from the internet to love to religion to sibling torment to social media to Hollywood and filmmaking to transgender computer hackers, all bubble beneath the deliciously irreverent comedic fun and foibles of life. Toss in the comedy stylings of Nora Dunn, Lizzy Caplan and Chris O’Dowd, plus an over-the-top fall-on-the-floor-laughing performance by Chris Noth, a funny and frazzled Charlie Hunnam (with perfect American accent no less) and we’ve got ourselves an explosion of laughter and fun. And then there’s Ron Perlman. . .with a flawless ruby hued manicure and lipstick. . .and, in pantyhose. How can you not laugh?
Struggling novelist Frankie Bartlett has always been the butt of the joke thanks to his older brother Bruce’s warped sense of humor. And Bruce, always thinking of himself - and ways to embarrass Frankie - always had a Super 8mm camera ready to capture each and every carefully orchestrated pitiful moment. Now, as an adult, with a lifetime of emotional humiliation under his belt, Frankie is somewhat hapless, making him not only the perfectly put upon little brother, but perfectly put upon man, still tacitly begging for parental acceptance and encouragement while trying to find himself beneath all the baggage of his life. And as if childhood indignities aren’t enough to work though, thanks to a surprising and distasteful revelation at his wedding, which Bruce captured on video and disseminated to the world over the internet, Frankie can’t even show his face on the street. Ah, brotherly love.
Thanks to a parental realization (and jail stint) that Bruce’s behavior is fueled by drug-addiction, Bruce is placed in rehab, giving Frankie time to do some emotional rehabilitation of his own. Insuring his privacy and emotional safety, Frankie heads out to the desert. With a cactus as his only neighbor, he sets himself up a trailer that he now calls home. Intent on focusing on his writing, it’s a lonely, but safe, existence; that is until his mom demands Frankie’s appearance in support of Bruce’s coming out celebration, as in, coming out of rehab. Of course, no encounter with Bruce ever ends well for Frankie and this celebration is no different.
With Bruce already up to his old shenanigans before the bed sheets are even changed (something he was perpetuating in rehab thanks to his co-resident, Jack, a once famous actor, now just a washed up blowhard), Frankie is pulled back into the emotional downward spiral of his youth. Trying to escape the familial frenzy and prying lens of Bruce, he runs into (literally) a drunk girl named Lassie wearing lace panties and edible candy bra who has her own family issues, which leads to attempted drunk sex. Lassie, however, isn’t the problem. Frankie it seems, can’t perform. And as comes as no surprise, Bruce and his slutty girlfriend Claudia secretly videotape yet another embarrassing moment in Frankie’s life. And that’s where the fun really starts.
With a secret sex tape that becomes not so secret floating around it doesn’t take long before zaniness abounds with angels, devils, drowning pigs, religious fanatic film financiers, a gun-toting psycho druggie washed-up-actor and a transsexual computer hacker named Phyllis, as all get involved (whether they know it or not) in the “Recovery of the Sex Tape Caper.” Of course, Bruce is still Bruce which means his egomaniacal dreams of directorial grandeur - and unethical embarrassing activities - are also in the mix. As for Frankie, well he’s in love and more than ready to “go boom”... especially when he finds out that Bruce and Claudia have leaked this second video of “Frankie’s Most Embarrassing Videos” to the internet. (Where’s Tom Bergeron when you need him?)
Talk about going against type! Playing against their hard ass roles on “Sons of Anarchy”, Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman will have you not only in stitches, but smiling, grinning and laughing, as Charlie and Phyllis, respectively. Cast so against type as to make one initially question the director’s choices, any fears of performance are allayed once you see these men on screen where hilarity ensues but in perfect harmony with a sweet context.
Over the years, Ron Perlman has been a velour wearing mobster, a badass motorcycle gang leader; he’s lived in the tunnels of New York City as part man and part beast and he, of course, has been to hell and back, but until now, he’s never been a woman - a transgender woman at that. Describing his full on female regalia as Phyllis “a wash” with the tedious nature of his “Hellboy” make-up, Perlman steals the show and your heart as he grounds the film with a sweet tenderness, bringing warmth, kindness and love to the film. As the genius computer hacker helping a hapless Frankie try and recover the “sex tape”, together with Charlie Hunnam, some real “Ozzie & Harriet” or “Leave It to Beaver” moments of simple kindness and warmth fill the screen. For writer/director Roberts, this assessment is music to his ears given “The character is based on my sister who used to be my brother, so it’s definitely a prerequisite from my perspective that she come off as a real, warm woman because my sister would have absolutely ****ing killed me. . . That’s my favorite thing about the movie. This warmth in this character is not just personally satisfying but I think it makes the movie more satisfying.” Sealing the deal is Perlman’s comedic timing and vocal cadence with deadpan and straight-faced delivery of dialogue offering Charlie a chance to “look under the hood” or see “the junk in the trunk.” To.Die.For.
Charlie Hunnam is about as far from his “Sons of Anarchy” character of Jax Teller as one can get. Playing Frankie with a touch of “Hugh Grant leading man” blended with puppy dog adoration and hapless exasperation, Hunnam brings a palpable innocence and vulnerability that will resonate with any younger sibling. And talk about a surprise - great comedic timing! A perfect foil for Frankie, and as described by Roberts to be the other half of himself, is Bruce. Played to the hilt by Chris O’Dowd, he also goes against his usual “nice guy” persona to be a sleazy, drugged out, emotionally abusive brother.
When it comes to Chris Noth as the psycho druggie actor Jack (and also father to Frankie’s love interest, Lassie - GASP!), there are no words. You have to see it to believe it. Noth is over the top with insane hilarity.
And then there’s the women. With Nora Dunn as mom to Frankie and Bruce, she brings her patented droll dry wit rendering a stellar performance. And of course, Lizzy Caplan. Infusing Lassie with fun joy, she can turn on a dime with her emotions, bringing us the best of both worlds, as a trepidatious love interest for a smitten Charlie and as a dominating daughter trying to rein in her out of control father.
Written and directed by Jordan Roberts, the man behind the narrative of the Oscar-winning “March of the Penguins”, FRANKIE GO BOOM in many respects serves as a telling mockumentary of the madness and mayhem plaguing today’s society thanks to the immediacy and interaction of social media and, of course, YouTube, while proffering some rapier commentary on Hollywood and “filmmaking”. It’s also a comedic love letter to family, especially the sibling relationships. With Frankie and Bruce loosely based on a combination of Roberts and one of his own brothers, the dynamic and brotherly bull**** is beyond true to life, as are many of the character traits infused into Frankie and Bruce themselves, not to mention Phyllis. Where fact and fiction take a turn, however, is with Bruce who, while a drug addict, is given a chance for redemption and life unlike Roberts own brother, a heroin addict, who passed away 25 years ago. But it’s transgender computer hacker Phyllis who gives this film its true heart. Loosely based on Roberts other brother who transitioned into a woman some years back, it’s the character of Phyllis who actually brings sage wisdom and sanity to the story.
With every topic in the film one that will make someone uncomfortable or that’s not easy to talk about, Roberts “[K]knew I wanted to make a really out there comedy and I knew I wanted it to be grounded in the world both as a style and as a narrative. Maybe those subjects were more interesting because they were more grounded and maybe it helped us stay grounded, but I knew I wanted to be completely off the rails but stitched to human reality.” Believing the movie to be more cynical than his first film (and definitely moreso than “March of the Penguins”) and filled with razor-sharp black holes, Roberts attributes it to the fact that “this movie is very much about Hollywood and I consider Hollywood a jaded place.”
Describing FRANKIE GO BOOM as a “ different procreation story”, it was Roberts’ belief in himself that allowed him to make this film. “ Nobody would let me write this...I’ve been doing this for 17 years. I want to be funny. I think I am funny. But nobody would pay me to be funny. It was very frustrating and I knew I could be and I finally wrote this and decided, you know what...a lot people wouldn’t even read it. They read 5 pages and said, ‘This isn’t what you do. It’s not good.’” So, he wrote it anyway, financed it himself “and now I write comedy.”
In a film of this ilk, one would expect a great amount of ad-libbing but according to Perlman the script was so well done, “I didn’t find any need to change a word of it. I decided after finishing page 3 that I wanted to be in this movie. I didn’t come up to [the character of] Phyllis until page 30 or 40-something. I was actually asked to look at the script for a different role. There was no need to change or improve on this script. The script was flawless.”
Danish cinematographer Mattias Troestrup excels with establishing a complimentary visual tonal bandwidth. Paying attention to “The Hangover” which has a similar palette in many ways to FRANKIE GO BOOM, Roberts and Troestrup achieve a very structured look. Wanting and needing to make a “cheap” aka “inexpensive” movie, according to Roberts, “We wanted it to look awesome. We studied movies and paid very close attention. We got a great colorist and picked a palette before we shot.” Calling on the talents of production designer Michael Fitzgerald, an entire head-to-toe look was created that was accentuated by Troestrups lighting. Not to be missed is the detail of Phyllis’ apartment. Unabashedly admitting “This was a litmus test for us of how cheap could you make a good looking movie”, Roberts financed the project himself with a budget of $467,000.00. Besides being funny, having first-rate actors and looking good, notable are little details and extra elements like a car in a swimming pool.
With absurd wackiness abounding, and as Ron Perlman opines, “The funniest script I’ve read in at least 25 years”, 3, 2, 1. . .FRANKIE GO BOOM is madcap zaniness at its best.
Frankie - Charlie Hunnam
Bruce - Chris O’Dowd
Phyllis - Ron Perlman
Lassie - Lizzy Caplan
Jack - Chris Noth
Written and Directed by Jordan Roberts.