Young actor Logan Miller plays another teen blackmailer in Being Frank, an independent comedy drama opening at a limited number of theaters this month, including this weekend in Marion. Miller, who works a kind of haughty stoner persona, was last seen as one of the survivors in January’s Escape Room and appeared in last year’s Love, Simon as Martin, the teen who was blackmailing the closeted title character.
This time out he’s Philip, a 17-year-old high school senior who sneaks away from home on spring break and accidentally discovers his demanding, authoritarian father, Frank (Jim Gaffigan), has a second family, with whom he’s easy-going and chummy. Both families believe Frank spends half his time in Japan on business for his ketchup company when in fact he’s shuttling between wives and children. Philip finds a way to infiltrate Frank’s second home and extort tuition for New York University from his dad, who had forbid him to attend the college.
The early scenes with Philip and his unsuspecting half-siblings and their mom (Samantha Mathis) are funny enough, but as Adam Driver keeps saying in The Dead Don’t Die, this isn’t going to end well. It’s a comedy about a decades-long betrayal, so it’s bound to get pretty serious along the way. The writer, Glen Lakin (co-host of the Gayest Episode Ever podcast), gets credit for not sugar-coating the resolution, but the shift in tone also means the fun drains out of the movie at a certain point.
The comic elements include a drug-addled slacker (Alex Karpovsky), the uncle to Philip’s go-with-the-flow best friend (Daniel Rashid); a potential incest thread that has Philip’s half sister (Danielle Campbell) making the moves on him; and an amusing wise-beyond-her-years younger sister (Emerson Tate Alexander). There’s also Philip’s lame and unresolved attempts to woo a popular girl, likely left over from the script’s origins seven or eight years ago as a “modern day John Hughes” project for Ron Howard’s Imagine Writers Lab.
Polygamy, incest and infidelity are heavy lifts for a comedy, or even a “dramedy,” but Miller and Galligan are likable performers who sell their characters’ unlikely path to mutual understanding well enough to keep the audience on Philip’s side. Karpovsky, intended as the chief comic relief, isn’t given enough to do that’s actually funny and has a late conversion to wisdom that doesn’t play. That may be a sign of director Miranda Bailey’s inexperience — she has a long career as a producer of some very successful indie movies but this is her first feature as a director — as much as a script flaw.
Surprisingly, the explanation for how Frank got into this mess, and the fact that his motives are similar to Philip’s desire to escape his own life, works reasonably well, so the core story line holds together better than the comic digressions. That makes sense, since Lakin has said in interviews that the idea of the movie connected to his envy as a teenager for other families that seemed closer and more fun than his own. It’s a feeling many viewers are likely to recall with nostalgia.
The movie is set in 1992, perhaps as an ’80s-adjacent nod to Hughes or to Lakin’s own childhood, but most likely to eliminate mobile telephones and social media, which would have shot big holes in the premise. The period detail is minimal — the film is mostly set in a summer resort community that defies historical specificity — save for some fairly obscure pop music. No matter — the original score, a dose of acoustic sweetness by Craig Richey, is one of the best things about Being Frank, and his end-credits song, “Please Choose Me,” is as poignant as anything else in the movie.
Whether or not you check out Being Frank at a theater or when it arrives on streaming services, you should definitely give “Please Choose Me” a listen.
Grade: C. Not rated but PG-13 equivalent. Opens June 28 at the Mountain Marquee theater and restaurant in downtown Marion, North Carolina.
(Photo: Courtesy of The Film Arcade)