Director Jordan Roberts’ Frankie Go Boom, which debuted at SXSW last month, is an entertaining, charmingly madcap comedy with an indie sensibility. Half sibling rivalry, half love story, it follows Frankie (Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy), who grew up being tortured by his older brother, Bruce (Chris O’Dowd), an aspiring director who filmed the awful, funny childhood pranks he pulled on Frank.
As an adult, Frank lives in Death Valley writing unpublished novels in front of a handwritten sign reminding him, “Your family is poison. Stay away.” When his mother convinces him to come home for Bruce’s graduation from rehab, he goes against his better judgment. The brothers haven’t spoken in three years, and while it’d be easy to assume Bruce’s alcohol and drug addictions are the culprit, it’s really due to Bruce’s stronger addiction to filming his brother’s most humiliating moments and uploading them to a downscale version of Funny or Die (where “5 boners” equals “5 stars”). Thanks to Bruce, Frank is an unwillingly famous viral video star.
Frank’s trip is complicated when his path literally collides with Lassie (played by Lizzy Caplan, not a collie), who — suffering a freshly broken heart — drunkenly rides her bike into the side of his parked car and promptly passes out in the street. When she regains consciousness, the two share a botched sexcapade that night which Bruce surreptitiously tapes and uploads for the world to see. Frank and Bruce spend the rest of the film trying to get the video taken down, and of course, running into difficulty, not the least of which is Frank’s budding relationship with a sober Lassie, who he understandably wishes to keep in the dark about the video.
There’s an unstable point of view throughout the movie, as it primarily follows Frank from an objective position but occasionally watches him through Bruce’s lens. The majority of Frank and Lassie’s desperate failed tryst is time-jumped so the audience only witnesses the end results: Lassie’s frustration at her inability to seduce Frank and Frank’s irritation at his sexual dysfunction. But once Bruce’s bloopers-style video goes viral, we get a peak back at the previously skipped over love fail and it’s easy to see why Bruce’s video would be a humiliating, hysterical hit.
If that sounds like it’s already complicated, it only gets more so from there. Frankie Go Boom is not afraid to go to crazytown, but miraculously does it justifiably. What follows is Nora Dunn as Frank and Bruce’s mother who enables Bruce’s worst self-centered behavior, Chris Noth as a washed-up treadmill-running actor in a thong, and Ron Perlman as Phyllis, a transgender, rat-eating ex-con who’s also an expert computer hacker. Like I said: madcap.
Roberts filled his low-budget movie with actors playing against type, a smart decision, as he explained to Indiewire that the opportunity to do something different was primarily what convinced them in the script. The cast members each take on their ridiculous roles beautifully, imbuing them with more heart than what’s on the page. Perlman in particular is standout. He plays Phyllis with a tender humanity, fleshing out a role that could have easily gone off the rails into camp or simple homophobia, turning the character into Frank’s sage advisor and confidant. Even the smallest roles are filled with noteworthy oddballs. In rehab, Bruce finds a couple of angel investors who literally are obsessed with angels. But it’s truly Caplan who puts in a movie-stealing performance. Between having an absurdly drunk heartbroken meltdown in Frank’s car, coming on to him in the most unsexy of ways and later acting the straight woman in an insane world, Caplan plays every note on the comedy scale and does it with aplomb.
There’s no word yet on whether Frankie Go Boom has secured distribution, but considering its cast and fast paced comedy, it’s sure to get a release at least in larger cities. Despite what sounds like an insane premise, the movie at heart is a very raunchy romantic comedy, and though there are a few contrived moments, Frankie Go Boom is charming and enjoyable.