Director: Jonas Åkerlund
Starring: Matt Lucas, Johnny Knoxville, James Marsden, Billy Crystal, Juno Temple, James Caan.
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Synopsis: A man is surrounded by strange events and odd neighbours in this adaptation of Chris Millis’ novel.
I have to admit to having numerous preconceptions with SMALL APARTMENTS, which certainly starts with ‘Will Matt Lucas be convincing in a lead role?’ There’s also the question of Johnny Knoxville and can he be taken seriously in a co-starring part and will Billy Crystal be able to satisfy in an era when he’s not on top form but, quite surprisingly, this narrative ties them together in a very unusual, but strangely watchable fashion.
Matt Lucas takes on his first feature lead as Franklin Franklin, a recluse who wears wigs more than clothes and lives in a rundown Motel in LA with his dog. In the other apartments live Mr Allspice (James Caan), Tommy Balls (Johnny Knoxville) and Simone (Juno Temple). Our focus is following Franklin’s life as he tries to cover up the death of his landlord (played by FARGO’s Peter Stormare), after he accidentally kills him.
Director Jonas Åkerlund is more famed for music videos than films, you’d know him for The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ shock-video, plus work with Madonna and Metallica. However, his style here with Chris Millis’ debut screenplay is a lot more laid back. It allows the characters and the situation to develop, rather than making anything uncomfortable or trying to force the film and make it cleverer than it is.
There’s a definite Coen-brothers influence in SMALL APARTMENTS and although it doesn’t quite hit the heights of their very distinct tone, it works well as an impressive indie outlet for Lucas’ varied talents. Knoxville also affects as an aging-stoner with a Zen-like viewpoint on life, despite his Sean Penn in THIS MUST BE THE PLACE looks.
It’s also great to see Billy Crystal in something a little more low-key. He’s underplayed, yet smart and snappy as a fire investigator/wannabe Police detective Burt Walnut. When you throw in the addition of James Caan as the long-suffering neighbour of Franklin, their experience brings a positive focus and strength to the screen. There is also accompaniment from the always-excellent Juno Temple and subtle cameos from the likes of James Marsden, Rebel Wilson, Amanda Plummer and Dolph Lundgren in a Patrick Swayze-style DONNIE DARKO inspirational speaker role.
I have a feeling SMALL APARTMENTS may be overlooked on some film circuits, as the premise and some of the actors are a brave venture with a smaller amount of collateral. However, it deserves attention with impressive performances for this unusual ensemble. Quirky is an easy word to describe SMALL APARTMENTS, but the peculiar nature doesn’t undervalue the odd impact of this black comedy with occasional serious and poignant undertones.
SMALL APARTMENTS will be on limited release in the UK from March 22nd.