Frank & Lola, 2016.
Directed by Matthew Ross
Starring Michael Shannon, Imogen Poots, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette and Michael Nyqvist.
Frank meets Lola when she walks into his restaurant and he cooks her a meal. The attraction is immediate, but when she reveals a secret from her past, doubts creep into his mind. Is this the relationship he thinks it is?
He’s one of the most magnetic of the current crop of actors, but Michael Shannon as a romantic lead? And sexy? The answer, surprisingly, is yes – and the opening scenes of Frank & Lola leave you in no doubt.
This, however, is not your conventional romance, more of a pale noir (but not Grey) thriller with a love affair at its core. So the location is the mean, neon-lit streets of Vegas, along with the less menacing ones of Paris, and the Imogen Poots is Lola to Shannon’s Frank.
Their affair, in the words of the song, is “too hot not to cool down”. He’s the more intense of the two and realises quickly that the younger Lola is the kind of girl who’s going to be hit on by other men, especially ones closer to her own age. The insecurities creep in, so does the jealousy, but he manages to keep them under control until she shows up one night, obviously upset. And out comes the confession that changes everything, the one about how she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. From being obsessed with her, Frank is now consumed with thoughts of revenge and, when he gets the chance to carry it out, he finds himself slipping even further into jealousy and depravity.
Frank has another problem. He’s trusting to a fault, which means he believes everything he’s told. It never occurs to him that there may be more to Lola’s story: they’re in love, so why wouldn’t she tell him the truth? And when he’s told another version, he swallows that whole as well. It’s no wonder he’s confused and it’s only towards the end that he shows any signs of having learnt from his experience.
Despite the title, this is more his story than hers. Lola is more of a catalyst, sparking off the events that lead Frank on a journey of self-discovery, where he doesn’t just find out about himself, but also what he’s capable of. He learns more about her as well, and still wants her, but that desire becomes increasingly secondary.
As a noir, Frank & Lola doesn’t rely as heavily on the genre’s tropes as, say, last week’s City of Tiny Lights. There’s the night-time settings and shadowy corners in both Vegas and Paris, the beautiful woman with a secret and, inevitably, the intensity that goes with having Shannon on the screen. But there’s precious little of the usual hard-boiled dialogue and, even though it also positions itself as a thriller, there’s little in the way of thrills or good old-fashioned danger and the tone is decidedly downbeat.
Nor is it especially romantic – but this isn’t a film that’s about love, rather obsession and sex – but it does keep a firm hold on your attention. Much of that is down to the central performances, Shannon in particular, who brings all his customary presence to the screen, but this time couples it with a vulnerability that isn’t usually such a feature of his repertoire. Poots brings a dishevelled sexiness to the screen that makes her irresistible. Between them, they securely anchor the film.
It’s not a classic of any genre – thriller, noir or romance – but, thanks to its leading couple, Frank & Lola offers enough to make it an intriguing, if not wholly satisfying, watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★