Film Review: ‘Being Frank’

Laughs are few and far between in this weak comedy about a bigamist whose son discovers the truth behind his “business trips.”

Miranda Bailey
Jim Gaffigan, Logan Miller, Samantha Mathis, Alex Karpovsky, Anna Gunn, Hayes MacArthur, Michelle Hurd, Gage Polchlopek, Emerson Tate Alexander.
Release Date:
Jun 14, 2019

Rated R  Running time: 110 MIN.

“Being Frank” isn’t very amusing, which normally would be the most damning thing one might say about an ostensible comedy. But that really isn’t the worst thing about it. There is something ineffably creepy about this contrived and mirthless farce about a demanding family man whose rebellious son discovers his dad has secretly maintained a second family in a nearby town for some 18 years. It’s a premise that could have been played for heavy drama, or even as a horror movie. In this case, however, director Miranda Bailey and writer Glen Lakin strain mightily for laughs without much success, and wind up treating the son’s discovery of his father’s deception, and their subsequent efforts to sustain it, as a bonding experience for them.

Jim Gaffigan plays Frank, the bigamist dad, who exploits his position as CEO of his family-owned ketchup business to take frequent and lengthy “business trips” — to Japan, he claims — that serve as cover stories while he divides his time between his two families. Philip (Logan Miller), the 17-year-old son in what might be called Family No. 1, has long viewed his father as an overbearing control freak, and can’t resist the temptation to sow some wild oats during spring break in a lakeside resort town while Frank is, ahem, away on business.

Shortly after his arrival there, however, Philip spots Frank with Kelly (Isabelle Phillips), a lovely teenager, and assumes his dad is having an affair. The good news: Frank isn’t dallying with an age-inappropriate lover. The bad news: Kelley actually is Frank’s daughter, part of a Family No. 2 that also includes Bonnie (Samantha Mathis), his artistically inclined wife, and Eddie (Gage Polchlopek), his amiable jock son. The worst news: Frank seems a lot nicer, and more loving, when he’s part of this household.

At least, that’s how Philip sizes up the situation when he pays an unannounced visit to his father’s other home, introducing himself as the son of Frank’s best friend (who, of course, no one in Family No. 2 has ever seen) and greatly enjoying the discomfort this causes for Frank. Initially, Philip offers to keep quiet about Frank’s double life if his dad agrees to foot the bill for his attending NYU. But one thing leads to another — though not quickly enough — and soon Philip is involved in efforts to keep his mom (Anna Gunn) and kid sister (Emerson Tate Alexander) from learning the truth when they inconveniently arrive on the scene.

Periodically, “Being Frank” seems poised to lurch into melodrama, or at least soap opera, especially when Frank explains to Phillip how and why he started living double lives — in a scene that gives Gaffigan his one chance to briefly come off as sympathetic — and when Eddie fleetingly indicates he has his own set of daddy issues. But Bailey and Lakin aren’t able to make any of the serious moments at all impactful. (Rest assured, no one ever brings up the fact that bigamy is a crime, not just a plot device, and that Frank could be arrested at any moment.)

As for the funny business, well, it’s not nearly funny enough. Indeed, the movie is littered with scenes — such as a lakeside holiday gathering obviously intended to resemble an al fresco version of a Feydeau farce — that never provide amusing payoff for strenuous build-up. On the other hand, to give credit where it is due: Alex Karpovsky does earn a few chuckles as an over-age stoner who’s pressed into service to pose as Frank’s best buddy. Better still, during one of his character’s rare moments of lucidity, he stops the silliness in its tracks by giving a blunt appraisal of Frank’s (and Philip’s) moral cowardice.

By the way: “Being Frank” (which premiered under the title “You Can Choose Your Family” at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival) is set in 1992, and while there isn’t much in the way of period detail — a vintage pop tune here, a Clinton-Gore campaign poster there — it was probably a good idea to have the story unfold at a time when Google and social media could conceivably make it much more difficult for someone like Frank to maintain separate lives in towns that don’t look like they’re too far apart. Try to imagine another family tagging dad in a Facebook post. That wouldn’t make for a very long movie, would it?

Popular on Variety

Film Review: ‘Being Frank’

Reviewed online, Houston, July 12, 2019. (In SXSW Film Festival – Narrative Spotlight.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 110 MIN. (Original title: “You Can Choose Your Family”)

Production: A Film Arcade release of a Cole Iron Pictures production, in association with Reliance Big Entertainment. Producers: Miranda Bailey, Karen Kehela Sherwood, Amanda Marshall. Executive producers: Deepak Nayar, Shibasish Sarkar.

Crew: Director: Miranda Bailey. Screenplay: Glen Lakin. Camera (color): Yaron Scharf. Editor: Jeffery M. Werner. Music: Craig Richey.

With: Jim Gaffigan, Logan Miller, Samantha Mathis, Alex Karpovsky, Anna Gunn, Hayes MacArthur, Michelle Hurd, Gage Polchlopek, Emerson Tate Alexander.

More Film

  • 'Just Mercy,' 'Ford V Ferrrari' Tapped

    'Just Mercy,' 'Ford v Ferrari' Tapped for Hamptons Film Festival

    Awards contenders “Just Mercy” and “Ford v Ferrari” have been selected for showings at the Hamptons International Film Festival. Legal drama “Just Mercy,” starring Michael B. Jordan, will be the opening night film on Oct. 10 at Guild Hall. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated [...]

  • Tigers Are Not Afraid

    Film Review: 'Tigers Are Not Afraid'

    A graffiti tiger paces behind the bars of his spray-painted cage. Rivulets of blood snake from a crime scene to track characters through paint-peeling hallways. A grand piano burns amid the shadows of a gutted warehouse. Goldfish swim in puddles carved into the cement that surrounds a shattered tank. These and the countless more equally [...]

  • The Peppercorns and the Curse of

    Italian Locations Offer Diversity and Lots of Incentives

    From glaciers in the Dolomites to the emerald Sardinian coastline, gritty industrial settings and roughly 54 Unesco World Heritage sites, the Italian peninsula offers pretty much any type of location you could imagine. “Italy is a country where you can shoot everywhere,” says Stefania Ippoliti, president of the Italian Film Commissions umbrella group. “It’s not [...]

  • Fernando Meirelles The Two Popes

    How Italy Entices Big-Budget Film and TV Projects to Shoot on the Peninsula

    This summer there is lots of action on the Italian peninsula. “No Time to Die, ” the latest James Bond film, is shooting amid cave dwellings in the ancient southern town of Matera, while Christopher Nolan’s latest, “Tenet,” is encamped in Ravello, a jewel overlooking the Amalfi coast. Terrence Malick is in Anzio, a central [...]

  • Thom Zimny, Bruce Springsteen and Martin

    Bruce Springsteen's Director, Thom Zimny, on the Move from 'Broadway' to 'Western Stars'

    Director Thom Zimny is due for a big September: Come Sept. 22, he’ll find out whether he’s winning an Emmy Award for directing “Springsteen on Broadway” for Netflix. Ten days before that, he’ll be at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival to premiere a theatrical feature, “Western Stars,” which he co-directed with his muse and subject, [...]

  • Angel Has Fallen

    Box Office: 'Angel Has Fallen' Flies to $1.5 Million on Thursday Night

    Action movie “Angel Has Fallen” has soared to $1.5 million at 2,600 North American locations in Thursday night previews. Christian drama “Overcomer” took in $775,000 during Thursday night previews at 1,563 locations. “Angel Has Fallen” has been tracking for a debut in the $12 million to $16 million range and will expand to 3,286 sites on [...]

  • Our Mothers Review

    Oscars: Belgium Sends Cannes Prizewinner 'Our Mothers' to International Feature Film Race

    Belgian-Guatemalan director Cesar Diaz’s feature debut, “Our Mothers,” will represent Belgium in the International Feature Film category at the Oscars. Represented in international markets by Pyramide, “Our Mothers” world premiered at Cannes’ Critics Week and won the Golden Camera for best first film. More Reviews Film Review: 'Jacob's Ladder' Film Review: 'Tigers Are Not Afraid' [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content