I was thrilled to see comedian Jim Gaffigan in a starring role. He’s a brilliant stand-up, who I’ve been lucky enough to see live on two occasions. At the Critics’ Choice awards a few years ago, he was walking by me in the lobby and I yelled “Hot pockets” (from one of his bits). He turned around, walked over, and shook my hand smiling. He’s a class act.
Gaffigan has the perfect look for a father, so casting him in the role was smart. So is the title, Being Frank. He’s not being frank with his family on a number of things. Initially, I wasn’t going to give that away, but in the ads for the movie they’re giving away the premise. It was so much more fun for me not knowing that, and discovering what son Philip does about his dad — that pops is a bigamist who has a whole different family. All those times he was supposed to be traveling to Japan on business, he was really just him spending time with his other wife and kids.
Philip is also perfect casting. He’s played by Logan Miller, who was great in Love Simon, Escape Room, and Before I Fall (even if those last two weren’t such great movies).
When he first discovers what his dad is doing, you realize this is a rather intriguing concept. And the various ways Philip contemplates confronting his dad are interesting. The problem is that it becomes a comedy that just doesn’t have enough laughs. It’s also hard to mine comedy from a situation with so much at stake where lives could be ruined. It might have worked as a dark comedy if it were turned into a sitcom and had more time to explore various scenarios. At times it made me think of the horrible show Three’s Company, and how John Ritter had to constantly run around deceiving everyone.
It’s interesting when we first see Frank with his first family. Frank isn’t very affectionate with his wife (Anna Gunn) and he’s tough on Philip. Yet, at that point, we’re not so sure that makes him horrible. When we see how loving he is with his other wife (Samantha Mathis), we really feel for Philip. Especially since he’s witnessing this, and realizing that the kids of Frank’s “best friend” that he’s always comparing him to, are actually his half siblings he knew nothing about. They include the star football playing son Eddie (Gage Polchlopek), who is smartly written as a nice guy and not someone that bullies or picks on Philip.
It’s also refreshing that the cliche, precocious little sister of Philip, is written well in this (that type of character was the only thing I didn’t like about 500 Days of Summer).
The half-sister Kelly (Isabelle Phillips), is a bit more of a cliche character — the cute girl with a sarcastic attitude. Yet when that girl starts to develop a crush on Philip (not realizing they’re related) — hijinks ensue.
The other cliche character trait is the second wife being a hippie artist. When Phillip arrives at the house, she serves him cookies with haikus inside them, which is as idiotic as it sounds. The idea that she constantly paints the house across the street, but each time with something different she notices…also a bit goofy. Something similar was done in the Harvey Keitel movie Smoke 25 years ago, where he snaps a photo of his tobacco shop each morning at the same time; in that, it worked.
Philip has a handful of funny lines, and the comedy is ramped up a bit when his friend Lewis (Daniel Rashid) ends up getting their drugged out uncle (Alex Karpovsky) involved in a scheme. Even though that’s a cliche character, too…those stoner characters are always fun to watch on screen.
It’s strange that when the movie gets to the point where the first family shows up in the town as the second family…it gets about as dumb as Three’s Company was, with Jack Tripper running upstairs to keep something from Mr. Roper.
It’s also hard to understand Philip’s motivation. At first, he doesn’t want his mom hurt. That’s admirable, but…it gets to the point where he starts to become his dad’s accomplice.
Although, you gotta love the fact that the kid is going to blackmail his dad to let him attend college at NYU, which pops initially said he couldn’t afford. Yet when there’s a line said by dad about why he didn’t really want his son to go there — it’s a shame that it’s not as emotional as the filmmakers wanted it to be, since you don’t buy a word of it.
There were a number of scenes that were great. The opening job interview and dinner scene come to mind. Yet the look of it, and some scenarios, made me think of The Way, Way Back, which was a way, way better movie. That doesn’t mean this isn’t worth checking out. Although, I’m reminded of some comments I said about my dislike for Brokeback Mountain. As bad as you feel that these two men that love each other can’t be together, it disturbs me how horribly they treat their wives. In this, I believe the filmmakers want us to be sympathetic to Frank, but you really can’t like him because of how he treated his son and wife.
Oh, and just like 75% of the movies made these days, there’s a barf scene. Someone really needs to tell Hollywood to stop with that already.
This is the first feature film directed by Miranda Bailey, who has blown me away with the great movies she’s produced. Those include The Squid and the Whale, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and three underrated movies you should check out: Super, Don’t Think Twice, and I Do…Until I Don’t. Those movies are so good, it makes it easy to forgive her for two bad Richard Gere films (Time Out of Mind, Norman), and Swiss Army Man. And since this movie was mostly interesting and didn’t give you as many tropes as it could’ve, I’m looking forward to more projects with Bailey behind the camera.
2 ½ stars out of 5.