'Frank the Bastard': Film Review
A young woman attempts to uncover dark secrets on a return visit to her hometown in Brad Coley's film, described as a "Northern Gothic."
At times resembling the sort of deadpan satire recently seen in Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig's Lifetime movie A Deadly Adoption, Brad Coley's self-described "Northern Gothic" uncovers long-buried family and community secrets to an unconvincing effect. Depicting the travails of an emotionally troubled Manhattan woman who returns to the remote Maine village of her childhood, Frank the Bastard doesn't reward the viewer's considerable investment of time and patience.
The convoluted storyline concerns 33-year-old writer Clair (Rachel Miner), who's suffering anxiety attacks due to her recent divorce and the death of her father. So at the urging of her friend Isolda (Shamika Cotton), who wants to tag along, she heads up the coast to the small seaside town where her mother died in a fire. Their mission: to uncover the mysteries of the past.
Clair soon discovers that Thomas Wolfe was right to write that you can't go home again, receiving less than a warm welcome from her surly cousin Alice (Wendy Vanden Heuvel) who reluctantly invites the pair to stay at the farmhouse where she lives with her elderly mother (the late Ellen Albertini Dow, best known as the rapping grandmother in The Wedding Singer). Interacting with several of the locals, including the dashing older Tristan (Chris Sarandon), with whom Isolda develops a romance—yes, we're talking Tristan and Isolda, folks—Clair discovers that the town is essentially run by the venal Cyrus (William Sadler) and the seemingly countless members of his thuggish clan.
She also reunites with the titular character (Andy Comeau), a childhood friend whose mental and emotional problems spur Isolda to sarcastically dub him "Boo Radley in the barn." As she digs deeper into Cyrus' hold on the town and his plans for a shady real estate deal involving fracking, Clair finds herself in increasing danger, at one point being thrown in jail and nearly raped.
The Tennessee Williams-style plot machinations are played out in tediously sluggish fashion via flashbacks and endless discussions in which the townspeople grudgingly parcel out tidbits of important information. It all culminates in a violent denouement in which, as if to demonstrate the adage that what goes around comes around, fire once again comes into play.
For all the melodrama on display, writer/director Coley creates no dramatic tension and fails to provide necessary dimension to his stock characters. While one would think, for instance, that Frank would play a central role in the events, he's largely a subsidiary, dull figure.
Read More 'The Gift': Film Review
While Miner is unable to compensate for her character's opaqueness, the supporting players fare better. Sarandon delivers his usual stalwart work as the rugged Tristan, and Vanden Heuvell is so arresting that one wishes she were in a better film. As the loyal friend, Cotton is given the lion's share of the best lines, and she runs with them, such as when she comments that the creepy Alice "puts the noir back in pinot" and mutters that "the whole state's a f—ing Stephen King novel." Now, if only Stephen King had written the film.
Production: Big Indie Pictures
Cast: Rachel Miner, William Sadler, Wendy Vanden Heuvel, Andy Comeau, Shamika Cotton, Albertini Dow, Chris Sarandon
Director/screenwriter: Brad Coley
Producer: Ged Dickersin
Director of photography: David Daniel
Production designer: Chad Detwiller
Editors: Seth Anderson, Sabine Hoffman
Costume designer: Margaret Palmer
Composer: Robert Burger
Casting: Brette Goldstein
Not rated, 111 min.