[Look for my accompanying interview with screenwriter Glen Lakin here!]
Frank Hansen (Jim Gaffigan) is the everyman father – perhaps harsher than he needs to be, but only because he wants the best for his family (or at least that’s how he justifies things). However, try telling that to his son! The disaffected Philip (Logan Miller) has a dream to go to NYU and does not appreciate that his dad “doesn’t believe he’s ready” for college in the Big Apple. When Philip decides to sneak away for Spring Break after an argument – assured his father won’t find out, due to his endless travels to Japan for work – he inadvertently sets off a chain of events that changes the course of his family’s life in ways he never could’ve imagined.
It’s not a spoiler to reveal that Frank has two families, but to uncoil how Philip helps his father keep up the ruse is really fun, so I won’t say too much here. Just know that it’s a joy to watch Jim Gaffigan (excellent as the flawed, selfish Frank) and Logan Miller (a breakout star as Frank’s spurned son) play off of each other as Frank’s lies spill out. While Frank deserves all the hatred his son can spew at him, Philip takes a surprising path – and it’s the finely-tuned script, written by Glen Lakin, that gives depth to Philip’s anger and grief while still keeping things firmly rooted in comedy. (Philip’s empathy and grace saves Frank – he’s a bigger man than his father will ever be and it’s interesting to watch Frank realize it, even if it’s largely too late.)
The supporting cast also shines, with Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and Samantha Mathis (Pump Up The Volume, American Psycho) as Frank’s dual wives (Laura and Bonnie, respectively), plus Philip’s endearing siblings (Gage Polchlopek gives me major Chris Klein at his peak vibes) make the two families believable as to why Frank would want to balance both (even in his blatant favoritism towards his situation with Bonnie). Add Alex Karpovsky (HBO’s Girls) to the mix as Ross, the stoner uncle/foil and you’ve got one solid crew.
You might note the name change, with the original title shifting from You Can Choose Your Family (now the poster tagline) to Being Frank. It debuted at SXSW under the You Can Choose Your Family moniker before committing to Being Frank. I appreciate the cleverness of both – especially when you consider “frank” is also another word for “honest,” something Mr. Hansen clearly is not!
I loved this film and it’s a solid Toast, but I do have a few small points. The movie takes place in 1992, and much is made about it being set in the era of grunge. If that’s the draw for you, know it’s not a salient plot point, save the lack of technology and social media from the era that would account for the plausibility of the families not finding out about each other. (However, any film that kicks off with Mudhoney gets a thumbs up in my book!)
Another wish I had was more screen-time for Hayes MacArthur (who plays a family friend in a small role). If you’ve got this comedic genius on the call sheet, please use him! (Though kudos for the ending – Hayes and the delightful Michelle Hurd, who plays his wife, have a hilarious role in serving up some much-deserved karma for Frank).
Being Frank is a light romp, but with enough nuance to make you think while you laugh. You’ll want to shake Frank, root for Philip, wish Uncle Ross would share his weed, and get back in line to see it all again. Plus, it’s satisfying to see the affable Jim Gaffigan play against type – he’s made a living as a loveable dad and it’s great to see him challenge himself in this unlikeable role.
Being Frank (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Frank puts down Philip.
Take a Drink: every time Philip helps Frank out of a jam.
Take a Drink: every time you question if ketchup is really big enough in Japan to warrant such frequent business trips! Plus, how well does Heinz pay? Frank seems to live pretty high on the (hot dog) hog from that check. Providing for two families ain’t cheap, no matter what the decade.
Do a Shot: for the stellar soundtrack. While it’s not grunge-heavy enough, given the timeframe, it’s still hella fun.
Do a Shot: for the clever opening credits.
Do a Shot: for director Miranda Bailey, who bravely just walked off a project in Georgia to protest the state’s recent stringent abortion law.
No extra scenes, but the soundtrack continues throughout and it’s definitely worth a listen. Director/producer Miranda Bailey wrote the heart-rendering lyrics of the final song, “Please Choose Me” with composer Craig Richey, who also performed the tune, and it is lovely.
[This review originally appeared on MovieBoozer – please check them out for all things fab about film, and don’t forget to send your thoughts on the movie. I love hearing from you!]