“Two hours ago I would’ve crawled through glass for you…” —Frank
Matthew Ross spent 10 years of his life trying to make Frank & Lola. That is a long time to pursue any goal, let alone a noir-adjacent erotic thriller, but I believe it was time well spent. Ross has created a unique experience that offers a type of adult-centric entertainment we’ve seen far too little of in 2016.
The story follows Frank (Michael Shannon, in what I believe is his eighth big screen appearance of the year), a talented chef plagued by self-doubt after the failure of his first restaurant. A chance meeting with an equally lost soul, Lola (Imogen Poots, holding her own in a big way), soon turns his life into a whirwind of love, lust, and obsession. Frank feels for Lola the way he does for his craft, but he soon learns he cannot trust her the same way. This, coupled with a once in a lifetime opportunity, pushes Frank to a mental breaking point.
Ross uses Frank & Lola to explore the psychology of sex and abandonment, with much of the runtime spent forcing the characters to consider how previous experiences inform the decisions we will make in the future. Both Frank and Lola have done things they wish could be undone, but no matter how hard they search for some form of salvation they feel forever unclean because of their respective pasts. Frank lusted after women he knew he could never call his own and blew his only chance at running a restaurant on his own. Lola agreed to do things she knew she would later regret and tried to pretend they never happened. Their mutual inability to forgive themselves and move on brings them together as much as it tears them apart, but still they fight to have a reality they both know cannot exist.
Frank & Lola hinges almost entirely on the strength of the people behind its titular characters. Shannon’s take on Frank is one that presents him as cold and calculating, but not necessarily by choice. Frank has had his fair share of heartache, and at some point he seems to have decided everything that has gone awry is due to his own actions. His place in life is no one’s fault other than his own, which is fairly similar to how Lola views her own existence. Her life has led from runaway romance to runaway romance, with each new love becoming something of an obsession. Poots accepts the challenge of conveying such deep commitment and delivers with flying colors. You fall for Lola almost as fast as Frank does, and even when she does wrong you cannot help rooting for her success.
Where Ross missteps in his execution of the story is in how he presents the central conflict. The film initially seems to present both Frank and Lola’s perspective on their lives and relationship, but as soon as Lola begins sharing stories from her past the narrative focus pivots to be almost entirely on Frank’s emotional journey and experiences. This is compelling to a point, and that is aided greatly by Shannon’s performance, but as the emotions surrounding each reveal grow more complicated the story misses a golden opportunity to allow us to see things from Lola’s perspective once more. The lack of insight into her thoughts and behavior outside of Frank creates a maddening layer of unnecessary mystery to the proceedings that takes away from the inherent drama of the story.
Narrative shortcomings aside, Frank & Lola does offer a satisfying slice of adults-only entertainment in a time when such content is increasingly hard to find. Matthew Ross has created a devilishly charming and ever-so-slightly twisted affair that provokes just as much thought as it does dramatic tension. The performances of Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots are nothing short of stunning, and they are supported by a slew of notable actors who each deliver when their time comes. This is the kind of movie parents can set aside for that one night a month when they get to watch something they don’t have to first screen to ensure the content is okay for their entire family. It’s nasty, dark, romantic, and beautifully shot. Don’t miss out.