×

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.”

Director:
Miranda Bailey
With:
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.

Popular on Variety

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?

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

  • Legion M Launches Film Scout Mobile

    Film News Roundup: Legion M Launches Film Scout Mobile App at Sundance

    In today’s film news roundup, Legion M is launching its Film Scout mobile app, the first round of Oscar presenters are unveiled, Verve is expanding its book-to-screen business, “Gladiator” producer David Franzoni boards an American Indian project, and XYZ announces promotions. SUNDANCE LAUNCH Fan-owned Legion M is launching its Film Scout mobile app at this [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    APA Reaches Deal With Writers Guild of America

    APA has reached a deal with the Writers Guild of America, ending a nine-month standoff over allowing the agency to represent guild members. The full-service agency made the announcement Tuesday, four days after the Gersh agency signed a similar deal with the WGA. It’s the sixth mid-size agency to accede to the WGA’s bans on [...]

  • UTA Sundance

    UTA Marketing Ups Sundance Game With Private Residence, Programming

    Talent agency hospitality is a mainstay at the Sundance film Festival, be it in swanky lounges on Park City’s Main Street or private chalets in nearby Deer Valley. United Talent Agency, whose talent roster and independent film group always come in force each year, typically throws a brunch for friends and press — but will [...]

  • Joel Silver

    Silver Pictures Settles with Family of Assistant Who Died on Bora Bora Trip

    Silver Pictures has reached a confidential settlement with the family of Carmel Musgrove, the assistant to Joel Silver who was found dead in a Bora Bora lagoon in 2015. Musgrove’s family filed a wrongful death suit in 2017, alleging that she had been overworked and furnished with drugs and alcohol during the trip. The family [...]

  • David O. Russell

    David O. Russell Looks at 'Three Kings' 20 Years Later

    When David O. Russell made “Three Kings” in 1999, it was one of the most definitive films on the Gulf War. At the time, the director had worked on shorts “Hairway to the Stars” and “Bingo Inferno: A Parody on American Obsessions.” He had also worked on features “Spanking the Monkey” and “Flirting with Disaster.” [...]

  • Metoo Sundance The Glorias Zola On

    #MeToo Issues Continue to Make an Impact on Sundance Films

    If there were any doubts that the impact of sexual-harassment exposés­­ and backlash against them had died down, Oprah Winfrey put them to rest when she withdrew her name (and Apple’s distribution) from “On The Record,” a film about allegations against music execs Russell Simmons and L.A. Reid — just two weeks before its Sundance Film Festival premiere. Variety reached out to Winfrey and the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content