The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Frank the Bastard

Two hours can be a short time or a long time. A movie that sucks you in can make two hours feel like seconds. One that plods can make them feel like an eternity. Frank the Bastard falls into the second category. Ineptly written and flatly directed, the film takes real effort to get through, as it practically dares the viewer to pay attention.

The plot centers around Clair Defina (Rachel Miner), a young woman with severe anxiety, who makes her way back to the small Maine town she and her father fled years before, following her hippie mother's mysterious death. She's looking for answers about what actually happened on the commune where her parents lived. The townspeople she meets gradually dole out bits and pieces of information. Clair puts enough together to realize that local businessman Cyrus Gast (William Sadler), a bully trying to push through a land development deal he believes will revitalize the community, is at the center of things. Gast's deeply odd illegitimate son, Frank Byron (Andy Comeau), shows up around this time, and he ends up helping Clair – when he's not spouting inane gibberish, that is. Clair and Frank were acquainted with one another in childhood and share emotional wounds from a house fire that happened during that time. Of course, that incident figures prominently into the mystery.

Frank the Bastard is about as sluggish as a movie can get, which proves to be an insurmountable flaw. Virtually every scene involves characters awkwardly dumping exposition about the contorted history of the girl's family and their tenuous relationship to Gast. Writer/director Brad Coley attempts to create a complex mythology for Clair, but it isn't original or engaging enough to hold your interest.

Worse yet, the pieces of the mystery are uncovered so slowly as to breed impatience. Clair could just ask any number of people what she wants to know – or they could simply tell her. Instead, there's one laborious scene after another where someone provides a tiny sliver of information. That's all Frank the Bastard is: tiny slivers of information delivered at an agonizingly slow pace. Once everything is finally connected in the last ten minutes, the feat is accomplished by having several of the characters stand in a room staring at each other while flashbacks fill in the missing details. It bizarrely suggests that they're all having the same memory at the same time, and somehow psychically communicating with each other.

A lot of independent films are about characters uncovering dark secrets from their past. They rarely work, because the audience only cares about the past insofar as it impacts the present. In other words, the primary action in the plot needs to be taking place now. Suspense doesn't happen in reverse. Everything dramatic that occurs in Frank the Bastard took place decades prior, so there's little to do but have characters sit around and talk about it, while Clair listens. This completely robs the movie of any dramatic tension.

On those rare occasions when it isn't saddling the audience with tedious backstory, the film indulges in a half-hearted subplot about utility deregulation and fracking. Really, the only semi-amusing thing in Frank the Bastard is the often laughably-bad dialogue. When Clair's friend Isolda (Shamika Cotton) tries to digitally enhance an old picture that may contain a vital clue, she frustratedly shrieks, “Ugh, not enough grain structure!” Later, one of Gast's goons tries to rape Clair, but not before telling Isolda, “Keep your panties on, Beyonce. You're next.” The best (worst) line comes when Clair finally gets confrontational with the cousin who has been holding back on her. She does so with this threat: “You better tell me or there's bees buzzing up your f---ing ass!”

Frank the Bastard, with its self-serious tone, plays as though it's supposed to be profound. Turgid would be a far more apt word to describe it. Why would anyone choose to tell the story this way? Since the real drama took place a long time ago, why not just set the movie then? A film about scandals, conflicts, and murder on a hippie commune sounds fascinating. One that has endless sequences of people reminiscing about those things? Well, that's just a recipe for boredom.

( out of four)

Frank the Bastard is unrated, but contains language and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.

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