'Frank & Lola': Sundance Review

Frank and Lola Trailer Still - H 2016
A haunting dissection of male jealousy.

Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots play lovers struggling to sustain their relationship in this moody psychological drama.

Although he missed out on an Oscar nomination for his performance in 99 Homes, Michael Shannon did receive a Golden Globe nomination, as well as an award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, for his brilliant portrayal of a ruthless real-estate tycoon taking advantage of the housing crisis in 2008. Now the actor gets another chance to demonstrate his skill at portraying flawed but fascinating men in Frank & Lola, a Sundance film from first-time writer-director Matthew M. Ross. Shannon’s performance is the main attraction of this dark character drama, but it also boasts a seductive atmosphere and some penetrating insights into the male psyche. It deserves a release from an enterprising distributor. 

Shannon portrays Frank, a gifted but struggling chef who snags a promising opportunity in Las Vegas at the same time that his girlfriend Lola (Imogen Poots) is trying to recharge her career as a fashion designer. Perhaps Frank feels some professional competitiveness with Lola, but he’s also jealous of her new employer, whom he suspects of having sexual designs on her, and he is troubled by her past liaisons. When one of her former lovers, a Frenchman she knew while living in Paris, stops in Vegas, Frank becomes inflamed with jealousy and even flies off to Paris to spy on Alan (Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist).

Other films have focused on sexual jealousy, but Ross and Shannon probe deeper than most into the poisonous, compulsive nature of male suspicion. At first Lola tells Frank that Alan raped her, but when he confronts Alan about these charges, he learns there is more to the story and that Lola engaged in an array of kinky sexual activities while living in Paris. Whether these activities were voluntary becomes another question, as the two lovers battle over the truth. Frank finally recognizes the irrationality of his own obsession, but his awakening may come too late to salvage the relationship.

The script is well-structured; it continually provides new revelations to keep both Frank and the audience on edge. The character of Alan seems to be modeled on controversial French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and Nyqvist does a fine job of leaving us in doubt about the true nature of this suave but possibly predatory bigwig. Emmanuelle Devos has a small but pivotal role in the Paris scenes, and Justin Long gives a likable performance as Lola’s employer.

The one questionable contribution is Poots’ turn as Lola. Maybe the writing of this character just isn’t strong enough, but we don’t get as invested in Lola as we do in the male characters.

Ross and cinematographer Eric Koretz bring considerable flair to their depiction of both Las Vegas and Paris. The film is tightly edited, though some of the fracturing of time at the very beginning seems pointless. The chief distinction here is the fearless performance by Shannon, who keeps us interested in Frank even when he is behaving in an intolerant and self-destructive manner. Ross has described Frank & Lola as a neo-noir, and it does deserve comparison with similarly dark character studies (such as Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place) from Hollywood’s golden age of noir. This movie casts a troubling spell.

Production: FullDawa Films, Killer Films, Preferred Content, Lola Pictures
Cast: Michael Shannon, Imogen Poots, Michael Nyqvist, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette, Emmanuelle Devos
Director-screenwriter: Matthew M. Ross
Producers: Christopher Ramirez, Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen, John Baker
Executive producers: Kevin Iwashina, Arnaldo Gomez III, Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Robert Halmi Jr., Jim Reeve
Director of photography: Eric Koretz
Production designer: Gerald Sullivan
Costume designer: Kameron Lennox
Editors: Rebecca Rodriguez, Jennifer Lilly
Music: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Sales: Arclight Films, Preferred Content, CAA

Not rated, 87 minutes