Frankie Go Boom: SXSW Review

Try-too-hard plotting doesn't derail offbeat rom-com.

Charlie Hunnam, Chris O'Dowd and Lizzy Caplan star in filmmaker Jordan Roberts' offbeat romantic comedy.

AUSTIN -- Though riddled with credibility-straining coincidences and over-the-top humiliation, Jordan Roberts' Frankie Go Boom plays out with more charm than desperation. Thanks to writer/director Roberts' split-personality approach, in which he tries too hard on the page and then relaxes behind the camera, the family-dysfunction rom-com has some mainstream appeal, particularly with viewers accustomed to It's Always Sunny-style outlandishness.

The relaxed part of Roberts's filmmaking equation, one assumes, owes much to Frankie's cast, composed of actors who (with exceptions like Nora Dunn and Chris Noth) trust the laughs to come naturally. Leading the film with hunky ease (and a hit-and-miss American accent) is Charlie Hunnam, whose Frankie spent his childhood being tortured in home movies by brother Bruce (Chris O'Dowd), a wannabe auteur who developed a serious substance-abuse problem after childhood.

Having retreated to Death Valley after Bruce put a particularly traumatic event online for millions to see, Charlie reluctantly comes home for Bruce's graduation from rehab. There he meets Lassie (Lizzy Caplan), reeling from her own heartbreak, and the two spend several hours trying unsuccessfully to have sex. Guess what not-quite-reformed indie filmmaker secretly captures Frankie's erectile dysfunction on video?

Bruce's incorrigibility is new territory for O'Dowd, who radiated decency in last year's Bridesmaids. But the actor maintains a straight-faced shamelessness here, tempering the wackiness of the pair's eventual efforts to get Bruce's no-sex sex tape taken off the internet before it's seen by people who could ruin both brothers' dreams.

The film's tackiest ingredient, oddly, proves a high point. Roberts casts Ron Perlman as a post-op transsexual whose help Frankie needs, and in his way, Perlman is lovable as the affection-starved old dame. If his flirtation with Frankie invites "Beauty and the Beast" jokes, it also offers needed warmth to the picture while Frankie and Lassie's mixed-message romance is on hold

As Lassie, Caplan isn't asked to deploy her most withering looks, even when she learns that her failures as a seductress are the toast of the World Wide Web. That's just as well, because an easily scornful woman could never be won over by the film's final stunt, an "I'm sorry" gesture so corny even the sappiest Hollywood romance-peddler might blush.

Venue: South By Southwest film festival, Narrative Spotlight
Production Companies: Defender Films, K&L Productions
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Chris O'Dowd, Lizzy Caplan, Ron Perlman, Chris Noth, Whitney Cummings, Nora Dunn, Sam Anderson, Jordan Black, Adam Pally
Director-Screenwriter: Jordan Roberts
Producers: Marcel Langenegger, Pavlina Hatoupis, Katayoun Marciano
Executive producers: Elliott Lewitt, Julie Kirkham
Director of photography: Mattias Troelstrup
Production designer: Michael Fitzgerald
Music: Mateo Messina
Costume designer: Ann Foley
Editor: Michael Hofacre
Sales: Rena Ronson, Bec Smith at UTA
No rating, 88 minutes