Film Review: Frank & Lola

Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots meander through this strained neo-noir about a Vegas chef who falls for the wrong gal.
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Early on in writer-director Matthew Ross’ debut feature, Lola (Imogen Poots), the dirty blonde with the shady past, tells the searingly intense chef (Michael Shannon) she’s just fallen for, “You’re pretty cool, Frank.” It feels like one might be getting set up for something pretty sweet. Nothing too fancy, just a tasty little micro-noir packed with deception and neon-smeared nighttime scenery. True to form, even though things start out swimmingly between the red-hot lovers, it soon turns out that nothing is exactly kosher in their relationship. Certain important truths have been left unsaid. Unfortunately for Ross’ film, and the viewers, none of that leads anywhere of great interest.

Frank is a classic Shannon hero: taciturn and looming, capable of silencing a yippy little irritant like the yuppie glad-hander Keith (Justin Long) with one deadly stare. Pairing him with a sunbeam like Lola makes for an uncertain fit at first. Unlike Shannon’s dance of uncertainty with a dark and flighty Rachel Weisz in the recent Complete Unknown, here it is difficult to buy the meet-cute from the very start.

Nevertheless, Poots and Shannon give it their best. Ross’ story is short on details at first, just sketching in the outlines of a love affair that blooms fast in the Las Vegas night. He’s a chef at an all-too-symbolic French restaurant and she’s a soon-to-graduate fashion student. They get by for a time on smoldering looks and Eric Koretz’s romantic cinematography. Then, problems arise. When Frank sees Lola getting chatted up by Keith at a bar, his inner Queens doesn’t buy her excuse that the guy was just interested in seeing her designs. Not long after, Lola spills not one, but two secrets to Frank that leave him with what he sees as a stark choice: leave the relationship now or fly to Paris to exact revenge on a man he thinks has done her wrong. Under the guise of auditioning for a top-flight chef position, he chooses the latter.

At that point, just when Frank & Lola should be taking off, it instead takes precisely the wrong turn. The artificial-sounding and learned-from-movies patter worked fine when it was just Frank and Lola. It plays at first like a couple of people just trying too hard out of anxiety and resorting to lines they think they may have heard in a movie once. But there’s almost a sweetness to some of those exchanges, secondhand though they might feel.

That sensation disappears once Frank embarks for Paris. Theoretically, watching Frank play cat-and-mouse with his target while leading the double life as an up-and-coming chef should have made for at least moderately diverting viewing. But instead of providing an all-too-brief glimpse of Emmanuelle Devos in a fairly wasted speck of a role as one part of an illicit assignation, the twisted games played by everyone Frank encounters don’t lead much of anywhere. Almost more unforgivably, Ross misses the opportunity to color in the background with the glamour of the city’s high-end dining and fashion scenes.  

By the time Frank tires of glaring menacingly at Parisians and returns to the streets of Las Vegas, the disparity between his character and Lola’s becomes too great a chasm for the film to bridge. The emotive and possessive guy’s-guy from Queens, he wears his whole heart on his sleeve. She’s bright and peppy, yet inscrutable. Neither Frank nor the audience can ever quite tell if any of the things she’s telling him about her dark past and darker present are quite true. Fatally for Frank & Lola, most viewers won’t much care to find out.

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