DIRECTED BY: Ronald Bronstein
FEATURING: Dore Mann, David Sandholm, Paul Grimstad
PLOT: A pathetic loser named Keith lives a putrid existence in his sigh-inducing apartment. He is horribly flawed in every way: vacuous, temperamental, and repulsively stupid. He lives with a roommate he wants to rid himself of, he tries to romance women to no avail, and his attempts to better himself in any way only exacerbate his terminal lameness.
WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: The titanic sadness at the center of Frownland is certainly profound enough to be considered weird. It calls to a part of us that we all carry within: that anti-social, misfit side who feels that, truly, in our heart of hearts, we are ugly and alone. Only, in Keith, we find that part magnified, personified to a hideous degree. There is something quietly disturbing about a man struggling with so many problems adapting to society, trying to overcome the shame he feels in himself and his deplorable condition. But to say that it is weird based on that facet alone is to ignore the unflinching blandness surrounding Keith and the lack of any character whatsoever in the world Frownland creates.
COMMENTS: Cited by many media outlets as a comedy, Frownland is a crushing personal statement of loneliness and isolation in a city of millions. If this is a comedy, then it is a comedy of the absurdity to which modern life is betrothed.
From the very first moment, Ronald Bronstein fashions an air of shame and anxiety around the central character, Keith, that is hard to shake. Keith is a dreg of humanity, a product of a lack of any esteem or dignity, and while it doesn’t excuse his behavior at times, it is worth noting that he isn’t exactly like the hideous beast he watches on a televised horror movie in an early scene. But everything about him is unappealing, from his appearance to his treatment of his semi-friends to the way he lies just to try to relate to other human beings. He is not even an anti-hero: he’s an anti-anything, a character that admittedly took a lot of guts to commit to film, and one that will live in infamy in the indie circuit for years to come.
Bronstein has a very dark, organic vision that threatens to swallow the viewer in a miasma of dilapidated retro culture. It has the heart of an angst-ridden 70s independent feature, the set pieces of an 80s European film, the youth-centric mindset of a low-budget 90s film, but for all we know it is set in 2007. Nothing is given as far as details, and we can only guess while the unsettling score drifts in and out of the background. It is an effort that many will compare to John Cassavetes, with its heavy mood and deeply troubled characters, but in the rhythms and pacing of the hypnotic dialog Bronstein traces out, I think there is a real visionary here who stands out from his peers.
Frownland is a work of art that tests us on a very cerebral level, and I for one am glad to have seen it. I think it’s fair to keep this on the borderline for now, but with enough support behind it, it may very well earn its own spot on the List. For a comedy in which I never laughed once, this might just be the best comedy I’ve seen all year.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…either a primal scream issued from a potentially dangerous mind, a wildly original work of outsider art, a doctoral thesis on how not to make friends and influence people, or all (or none) of the above. Only this much is certain: It’s been a while since something this gonzo turned up at a theater near you.”–Scott Foundas, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)
This movie was suggested for review by reader “Rob”. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.