The anomic gloom that envelops Frownland, a miserabilist, micro-budgeted 16mm freak show, fatally impedes its seeming aspirations to the mercurial grit of Cassavetes—or even to attaining a grainier, black-comedy kinship to the razor’s-edge psychodramas of Lodge Kerrigan. Insecure Keith (Dore Mann), living a slovenly life in a small Brooklyn room where he reclines eating snacks off the open oven door, faces a daily hell with no prospects or motive to change: a door-to-door soliciting job in the suburbs for a (fraudulent?) multiple sclerosis charity, some sort of anxiety disorder that turns his speech to either a stammer or an incomprehensible flood, tantrums and obsessive episodes that threaten to alienate the few acquaintances barely capable of tolerating his aberrations. Writer-director Ronald Bronstein is clearly committed to his irritating vision, but never finds a tone appropriate to either a disquieting case history or a misfit tragicomedy. After following Keith from humiliating front-porch pitchman defeats to distraught late-night wanderings, Bronstein shifts focus briefly to splenetic roommate Charles (Paul Grimstad), an anachronistic new-wave musician on an indiscriminate job search (on his waitstaff questionnaire: “What is espresso?”). But Charles is just as unbearable and less pitiable than Keith, who he lambastes as “a burbling troll” and asks in absurd arguments about their unpaid electric bill, “Why do you insist on permuting the circumstances?” Wallowing in emotional and aesthetic ugliness that feels like sandpaper on the nerve endings by the 20-minute mark, Frownland and its hopeless, ungenerously travestied loser-martyr have won plaudits on the festival circuit: Call it spluttercore? Its world of torment is too circumscribed to invite empathy and too insistently wretched to convince as satire.
- 106 min
- Ronald Bronstein
- Ronald Bronstein
- Dore Mann, Paul Grimstad, David Sandholm, Mary Wall, Carmine Marino
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