Matthew Ross’ inspired, tense debut Frank & Lola wears its influences on its sleeve – De Palma, Polanski, echoes of Eyes Wide Shut. It makes the most of leads Michael Shannon and Imogen “Best Name In Show Business” Poots, both of whom are having banner years with Midnight Special and Green Room, respectively, and upends audience expectations at regular intervals.
Frank & Lola is, unsurprisingly, the story of Frank and Lola. Shannon’s Frank is a chef who cuts his teeth in the cafes of Paris but has been working in less esteemed locales while he saves up funds for his own restaurant. Lola walks into his workplace one evening and is wowed by a fancy omelet. The meet-cute leads to a relationship, and the relationship to the unearthing of some fairly dark secrets about her past.
In one of many smart moves, Ross wastes no time moving from omelet-euphoria to the more shadowy intricacies of their coupling. In fact, the film opens with the lovers already together in bed, circles back around to the meeting, and then into the paranoid narrative that constitutes most of the film. In clever impressionistic touches, Ross overlays later conversations on earlier footage, disorienting us from the start. Frank & Lola sometimes seems like it’s taking place in a memory or a fantasy, a technique that works much better than it might sound.
Like the audience, Frank doesn’t know much about Lola’s past, which is doled out in small, sometimes contradictory fragments. She also spent time in Paris, and the film is decidedly stingy on cluing us into just why, with whom, and to what ends. Ross constructs the narrative such that we inhabit Frank’s increasingly suspicious point of view – a trick that pays off, Vertigo-style, when it becomes clear the film is more interested in the dynamics of male jealousy and obsession than any conventional whodunit focus. By aligning the audience with Frank and denying any sure footing, Ross makes us complicit. Every mystery is, in some sense, a conspiracy in which the viewer plays a part, and Frank & Lola is very intrigued by just how this works.
Given the nature of its script and execution, I wouldn’t dream of giving away Frank & Lola‘s secrets. Suffice to say that Frank winds up tracking down a man (Michael Nyqvist, excellent) who played a nefarious part in Lola’s past – but as soon as the film threatens to enter the globe-trotting revenge space of Taken and its ilk, Ross pulls the rug out yet again. We are, thrillingly, never sure what to believe or anticipate.
Shannon and Poots make an entirely believable couple here, both harboring deep reserves of secrets and rage (though one look at Shannon’s mile-long glower should be enough to assure you of that). Justin Long has a nice turn as the owner of a firm where Lola finds a job, both charming and smarmy, and Nyqvist plays the “is he or isn’t he?” role with the studied menace of a French aristocrat. Not a moment or a look is wasted here.
Frank & Lola might not be for every taste, but if you like tense, psychosexual mindfucks, and if the words “De Palma, Hitchcock, Eyes Wide Shut” do anything for you, this is one you won’t want to miss.