'Frank and Cindy': LAFF Review

Courtesy of Los Angeles Film Festival
A brilliant Rene Russo barrels right through this self-indulgent trifle

In this autobiographical opus, Johnny Simmons plays an aspiring filmmaker who moves back in with his parents, played by Rene Russo and Oliver Platt.

Not every true story is worth recounting. That is the inadvertent lesson that comes from watching Frank and Cindy, one of the world premieres at this year’s LA Film Festival. Gilbert Echternkamp made a documentary in 2005 about living as an adult with his mother and stepfather, a onetime rock musician who never quite made it. Dissatisfied with that unfinished movie, Echternkamp has now revisited the subject matter in a dramatized version of his own life. One hopes that the decade-long venture was therapeutic for him, but it is less rewarding for an audience. Expert performances by Johnny Simmons, Oliver Platt and especially Rene Russo nonetheless give this bizarre family saga an energy that it would not otherwise have.

As an adult, Echternkamp, known as G.J., moved back in with his family while he was struggling to establish a foothold. Frank Garcia (Platt) once had a promising musical career, which is what attracted G.J.’s mother to him. After Frank’s career fizzled, the marriage also deteriorated. Years later their combative relationship proves toxic for anyone in the vicinity.

No doubt this period in his life was seminal for Echternkamp, but it’s not quite clear that an audience needed to be subjected to his own domestic nightmare. The screaming matches quickly prove tedious, though these fights do have their moments of raucous humor.  At least G.J. doesn’t make himself an innocent victim. He willingly subjects himself to the squabbling, and he somehow manages to entice a number of women to share a bed in this madhouse. In fact, he’s something of a lech, and Simmons doesn’t shy away from exposing the character’s randy side.

But it’s Platt and Russo who make the movie worth watching. Platt is reliably funny as the aimless Frank, and Russo is a complete hoot. After several years out of the limelight, Russo made a strong impression as the sleazy TV producer in last year’s Nightcrawler, and she relishes the overbearing, grotesque character she plays here. She’s completely free of vanity, with her unkempt blond wig and cracked teeth, and she tears into the role with gusto.

In smaller parts Jane Levy is appealingly levelheaded as G.J.’s skeptical girlfriend, and comic Marc Maron has a bright cameo as G.J.’s father, who lives in a trailer with a gaggle of cats. The film becomes less strident and more appealing in its final third, but it still leaves us wondering if we needed to be subjected to the family madness that obviously still haunts Echternkamp. Nevertheless, the movie will be remembered as a showcase for the fearless, indomitable Russo.

Cast:  Rene Russo, Oliver Platt, Johnny Simmons, Jane Levy, Marc Maron

Director:  Gilbert Echternkamp

Screenwriters:  Gilbert Echternkamp, Alex Holdridge

Producers:  Bill Perkins, John Pierce, Scoot McNairy, Bic Tran

Executive producer: Hayley Marcus Simpson

Director of photography:  Tobias Datum

Production designer:  Sue Tebbutt

Costume designer:  Romy Itzigsohn

Editors:  James Harrison III, Rick Shaine

Music:  Mac Quale

No rating, 101 minutes