Small Apartments Review
By Rich Cline
Relentlessly quirky and strange, this pitch black comedy manages to combine its outrageous silliness with some surprising emotional resonance. Swedish filmmaker Akerlund (who directed Lady Gaga's Telephone) keeps the film's pace snappy as it lurches through a series of crazy situations that aren't remotely believable. But the starry cast manages to hold our interest.
Everything centres on a run-down apartment complex in Los Angeles, where Franklin (Lucas) lives in his dumpy flat, dreaming of someday moving to Switzerland to play his alpine horn in the mountains. Clearly unhinged, Franklin desperately misses his brother Bernard (Marsden), who went away but still sends him a daily audio-tape message. Then on the first day a tape fails to turn up, Franklin's whole life starts to unravel, starting with the fact that his landlord (Stormare) is lying dead on his kitchen floor. Franklin's attempt to get rid of the body draws the attention of two detectives (Crystal and Koechner), who start quizzing the neighbours (Knoxville and Caan). But this is only the start of Franklin's big adventure.
The story is structured as a series of wacky set-pieces set apart by luridly colourful flashbacks and fantasy sequences that fill in the back-stories for each of the characters. As a result, everyone on screen bursts with personality as well as motivations for everything they do, which makes watching them a lot more interesting than we expect. Crystal and Caan emerge as the most engaging people on screen, but even nuttier characters like Lundgren's "Brain Brawn" pop psychologist are fun to watch. By contrast, Lucas gives Franklin an eerily blank face: this is a man who still hasn't figured out who he is.
Mental illness is one of the main themes in this film, but the often shockingly fatalistic script is exploring the larger issue of how to cope when daily life feels like it's out of our control. With all of the lively people on screen, the filmmakers are reminding us that the craziest people we meet aren't actually the ones who look crazy. And there's also a terrific undercurrent reminding us that even our wildest dreams have a sliver of possibility in them. So if we only get one shot at life, we should always choose to forgive each other and be happy. Which is an unusually affirming message for such a darkly absurd film.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Thursday 12th September 2013
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Rotten Tomatoes: 33%
Fresh: 3 Rotten: 6
Cast & Crew
Screenwriter: Chris Millis
Starring: Matt Lucas as Franklin Franklin, Juno Temple as Simone, James Caan as Mr. Allspice, Dolph Lundgren as Dr. Sage Mennox, Billy Crystal as Burt Walnut, Peter Stormare as Dr. Olivetti, DJ Qualls as Artie, Johnny Knoxville as Tommy Balls, Rebel Wilson as Rocky, Rosie Perez as Ms. Baker, Angela Lindvall as Lisa, Tara Holt as Amber, James Marsden as Bernard Franklin, Saffron Burrows as Francine, David Koechner as Detective O'Grady