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AUSTIN – Brimming with loud idiosyncrasies and playing by its own structural rules, Jonas Åkerlund‘s Small Apartments might crumble if not cemented by a compellingly weird performance by Little Britain‘s Matt Lucas. A niche film by design, it’s true enough to its own unsettlingly comic vision to win fans in a limited theatrical run.
Lucas plays Franklin Franklin, a hairless, obese oddball who refuses to be seen without a wig but is strangely comfortable walking the streets pantsless. Franklin lives in squalor, surrounded by empty soda bottles in a decaying apartment complex where icky hermitude is a prerequisite: one neighbor (James Caan) paints upsetting, gory artworks all day; another (Johnny Knoxville) is an underachieving stoner with rat’s-nest hair.
Soda bottles aside, the contents of Franklin’s apartment set the tone for the film: One alphorn (the oversized instrument seen in Ricola ads), which he plays when the mood strikes him; one small dog, who occasionally speaks; and one landlord, dead on the floor and creating a neighbor-offending stench.
Franklin’s eventual attempts to dispose of that corpse, and to avoid arrest when those attempts go ridiculously wrong, give Small Apartments its main plot. But while that storyline is sufficient backbone for the film, it’s almost incidental to its itchy appeal: Effectively lurid photography and production design make this environment feel like some kind of byproduct of Franklin’s mind, and Lucas’s unpeggable affect — somehow guileless and guarded simultaneously, giving few solid clues to his sanity or lack of it — completes the world.
Viewers get the strong impression that Åkerlund’s cast loved doing their part to weird-up this ecosystem, though even the scene-chewingest performance here (Peter Stormare as the sleazoid landlord, seen in flashback) augments the whole instead of drawing attention from it. The most naturalistic performance — Billy Crystal’s, as an alcoholic fire investigator — roots the picture to its ostensible genre while reminding us how engaging the actor can be when he’s appearing not to try.????A familial subplot involving James Marsden and Dolph Lundgren (the latter in eye-poppingly bizarre wardrobe) expands the film’s mental-illness themes, suggesting in the end that perhaps self-determination matters more than what those around us would call “sanity.”
Venue: South By Southwest film festival, Narrative Spotlight??
Production Company: Silver Nitrate??
Cast: Matt Lucas, Billy Crystal, Juno Temple, James Marsden, Peter Stormare, David Koechner, DJ Qualls, Rosie Perez, Amanda Plummer, Dolph Lundgren, James Caan, Johnny Knoxville??
Director: Jonas Åkerlund??
Screenwriter: Chris Millis??
Producers: Ash R. Shah, Timothy Wayne Peternel, David Hillary, Bonnie Timmermann??
Executive Producers: Ben Feingold, Bridget McMeel, John Glynn, Chris Millis??
Director of photography: Pär M. Ekberg??
Production designer: Jakub Durkoth??
Music: Per Gessle??
Costume designer: B. Akerlund??
Editor: Christian Larson??
Sales: Jim Busfield
No rating, 97 minutes
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