Small Apartments

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

Small Apartments wears its quirkiness heavily. Every character is dysfunctional oddball, every shot carefully framed to stress the strange otherworldliness of the filthy Los Angeles block where they exist on the fringes of normal society.

Yet the film holds together much better than it ought; thanks in no small part to Matt Lucas’s remarkably sympathetic central performance as Franklin Franklin. Remarkable because Frankin’s not so much a character as a sackful of oddities, starting with that double name. He plays an alpine horn. He gets sent toenail clippings on a daily basis. He drinks only Moxie soda, leaving the empty bottles to furnish his flat. He spends most of his time in only his grubby underwear, conceding to accessorise it with a wig when he steps out of the front door.

Nor does he have much in the way of normal emotions. He’s so desensitised that when he kills his sleazy landlord, it’s treated as an inconvenience so trivial that he takes very little care over trying to cover his tracks – leading to the most hilarious scenes of the movie when he clumsily attempts to set it up as a suicide.

Comic convention would dictate that such an oddball should share his world with more normal people to react against... but not here. Franklin’s neighbours include a jailbait would-be stripper (Juno Temple), a disturbed regret-filled artist (James Caan), and the pothead Tommy (Johnny Knoxville) and his lazy girlfriend (Rebel Wilson who made such a memorable cameo with Lucas in Bridesmaids). Meanwhile Dolph Lundgren is, for once, deliberately funny as a muscle-headed self-help guru.

The sanest person in the cast is Billy Crystal’s sarcastic, alcoholic fire investigator, beaten by the mill of life, who injects further dry wit to counter the strangeness.

Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund cut his teeth on music videos, and the film has a distinctive, if slightly too self-consciously art-school, look that’s infused with a sense of bleak isolation that those Nordic folk do so well. The desolate atmosphere certainly underpins the movie’s main themes of loneliness and disenfranchisement nicely.

Yet there’s a dark humour that runs through the film, which also helps distract from the weaknesses that undeniably exist in the fragmented, slight storyline that only nominally flirts with empathy. Only when an ending’s needed does writer Chris Mills – who also penned the novel this is based on – go for any sort of sentiment; and the result is a little cloying aphorism about the nature of happiness and madness, but it gets the job done.

Small Apartments has enough going for it to be a cult, hipster favourite, and even if it’s more a collection of strange vignettes than an entirely coherent whole, it will certainly will serve as a useful calling card for both Åkerlund and Lucas, who does so much with relatively little.

  • Small Apartments is out on limited cinema release on Friday, and on DVD soon. Click here to order from Amazon.

Review date: 20 Mar 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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