Inside his small, chaotic apartment on the south side of Los Angeles, Franklin Franklin (Matt Lucas) dreams of playing his mighty alphorn on a spectacular mountain in Switzerland. But Franklin has just killed his landlord, Mr. Olivetti (Peter Stormare), and needs to figure out how to get away with it. Complicating Franklin's plans are his neighbors: Tommy Balls (Johnny Knoxville), the slacker pothead; Mr. Allspice (James Caan), the old, nosy, know-it-all who monitors everyone's movements in the building; plus hard-working and desirable mother Francine (Saffron Burrows) and her daughter Simone (Juno Temple), who's nothing but hot, teenage trouble. Franklin's plan to dispose of Mr. Olivetti is not without its flaws and soon L.A. County Fire Investigator, Burt Walnut (Billy Crystal), and Detective O'Grady (David Koechner) is close on Franklin's heels.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Small Apartments begins as a totally quirky novelty film with seemingly absurd, overdrawn and outrageous characters ... but ends up as an absolutely captivating, totally quirky novelty film - with heart and many surprises. It is a stunning ensemble cast that delivers this quirkily wonderful adaptation by Chris Mills of his own novel.
Matt Lucas is a sensation as the overweight oddball Franklin Franklin, whose bald head and hairless face match his penchant for getting about in his white undies. Only his white undies. Oh, and socks. We learn why he is bald, but not why he wears no trousers. At first, Franklin and his irritable neighbour Mr Allspice (James Caan), the young pothead Tommy Balls (Johnny Knoxville) and his whacky girlfriend Rocky (Rebel Wilson) all just seem like exaggerations for the sake of effect. But not for long.
Franklin's small apartment (and the likewise small apartments of his neighbours) is like a miniature world of their occupants. Even for sexy Francine (Saffron Burrows) and her hot teenage daughter Simone (Juno Temple), who can often be seen cavorting in skimpy gear in theirs, as perved by Franklin through binoculars. Tommy is making a gravity bong ... and Franklin occasionally hoots on his huge alphorn.
Director Jonas Åkerlund doesn't flinch from handling this outrageous material, and slowly seduces us into a realisation that he is taking all these characters seriously, even lovingly, into his embrace. The only character not so embraced is the landlord, the grotty Olivetti (Peter Stormare), but he gets his comeuppance early.
Beautifully judged as a piece of black comedy (or perhaps dramedy) fused with these compelling characters, Small Apartments develops into something unique as the story reveals character. Franklin, a figure of fun at first, assumes a certain majesty. Mr Allspice, a lonely old fart, becomes a tragic; Tommy, at first just a pothead, reveals a deeper sensibility and suffers a terrible fate. And Franklin's older brother Bernard (James Marsden) is a moving character who helps Franklin realise his dream.
Having Billy Crystal along as the unglamorous fire inspector is a masterstroke, and through his character the filmmakers deliver one of the film's most humane messages of forgiveness. The other message, follow your dream, belongs to Franklin, and its resolution is touchingly humorous.
Small Apartments is bigger than it seems.
Review by Louise Keller:
The brazen, colourful nature of the characters is the strength of this black comedy from Jonas Åkerlund - and its topline cast. There's an additional, unexpected factor that does not hit us until the very end. It has a heart. In adapting his novel, first time screenwriter Chris Millis goes for broke and while we are left with indelible snapshots of the misfits who inhabit its reality, the film feels as though it is trying too hard much of the time. As a consequence, the humour does not really zing. So it comes with a great surprise that the string of characters and skit-like sequences find a way of knotting together, leaving us with damp eyes and a lump in our throats.
Without doubt, the opening sequence featuring the Switzerland-obsessed and twice-named Franklin (Matt Lucas) blowing his passions into an overlong Alphorn is one that is hard to forget. Especially as Franklin is no oil painting: bald, overweight and wearing nothing but white granny-sized y-fronts, long socks and clogs. It is not a pretty sight. Five wigs of different hues hang on the wall by the door, like keys. His squalid little apartment is filled with empty plastic soft drink bottles, a loyal dog and postcards from Switzerland.
With regard to the unexplained dead body on the floor (Peter Stormare), I wondered if I had missed something, but for his own reasons (and in my view a misguided decision), Millis has opted to keep us waiting, revealing the details in flashback later on. Meanwhile, we watch in bewilderment as Franklin deals with the body in an attempt to camouflage his tracks.
Initially, I felt like an observer, never caring enough about any of the characters, especially its antihero protagonist Franklin Franklin, who is rather irritating (no reflection on Lucas, who delivers exactly what is required). The turnaround comes from Billy Crystal's disheveled fire investigator, who is stuck in yesterday's mistakes, unable to realise tomorrow's dreams or cope with today. Crystal, who plays the most ordinary guy in the film, is extraordinary.
The oddball characters who live in the same cheap motel-like apartment block surrounding Franklin are worth talking about. I especially like Johnny Knoxville as the wild-haired, punk stoner in animal print briefs whose relationship with his alcoholic turned Christian mother comes as a surprise. Rebel Wilson is outrageous fun as Knoxville's girlfriend and Juno Temple is sassy as the wanna-be Vegas stripper who enjoys being 'peeped on' through binoculars by the perving Franklin. James Caan is a sad widower neighbour, while James Marsden is interesting (and effective) as Franklin's insane brother Bernard, who we meet in flashback. Dolph Lundgren as a celebrity self-help author and Bernard's mentor who professes to have all the answers, believing the brain needs to be toned. Who has all the answers? You will have to see the film to find out.
I love black comedies and while the film is not perfect, the colourful combo and unexpected juxtapositions of crazy, bizarre, wacky and over the top is great wrapping paper for the film's essence.
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SMALL APARTMENTS (MA15+)
CAST: Matt Lucas, Peter Stormare, Johnny Knoxville, Juno Temple, Billy Crystal, James Caan, Dolph Lundgren, Saffron Burrows, Rebel Wilson, Rosie Perez and Nugget the dog
PRODUCER: David Hillary, Ash R. Shah, Timothy Wayne Peternal, Bonnie Timmermann
DIRECTOR: Jonas Åkerlund
SCRIPT: Chris Mills (novel by Mills)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pär M. Ekberg
EDITOR: Christian Larson
MUSIC: Per Gessle
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jakub Durkoth
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Pinnacle Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 12, 2013