Where do you draw the line between an homage and a rip-off? More so, who gets to decide where that line is drawn? Being Frank markets itself as “a throwback to the 80’s & 90’s comedy like Mrs. Doubtfire meets Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and whilst it certainly isn’t wrong, it also isn’t much more than that.
Being Frank tells the story of seventeen year-old Philip (Logan Miller), who defies his parents to run away for spring break with his friend. Intending to have some good times and meet some girls, he instead meets his father – who has not come down to find him, but to see his other family. Complete with a wife, son, daughter and the dog Philip always wanted, Frank (Jim Gaffigan) has been leading two lives as long as Philip has lived, and he has only just been found out. So comes the moment where Philip must decide what to do, and so ensues the chaos.
Complete with a makeover shopping sequence, a ‘final wild spring break before college’ and a good dash of almost-incest, this movie manages to check off nearly every trope from the classic teen movies that director Miranda Bailey likely grew up with. The references can only get a movie so far, however, before some originality is needed to keep the audience interested. The story Being Frank tells is no doubt interesting and fun; a movie where a boy discovers his father has a secret second family should be no comedy, but if you are willing to suspend reality for two hours and let yourself live through Philip’s teenage hyperbole, you might just have a good time.
At times the script struggles, tending to lean into the obvious – telling, rather than showing – as if it does not trust its audience enough to figure things out for themselves. “I didn’t wanna commit, because I don’t wanna get trapped into an obligation,” Frank states at one point, talking about a trip to the lake his friends have offered. It is an almost eye-roll inducing moment of double-meaning, and it isn’t the only one. The audience really could have been given more credit and a larger sense of realism established, even if it were to take place inside a completely unrealistic movie.
Being Frank also has a difficult task in balancing the comedy with the dark reality of the story. It makes some effort for us to understand Frank’s actions, but it struggles to make the emotional notes hit when they are for a character that it is so hard to empathise with. The resolution is questionable, but its hard to be annoyed by, because Philip remains front and centre. You root for him, and Miller does a good job leading the movie. From a revenge story to a buddy-cop comedy, it may be called Being Frank but it really is all about Philip; the ways in which he is like his father, and him coming to terms with who he really wants to be.
Coming in at 111 minutes, it is certainly longer than expected. It takes a turn about halfway through which leads it on a different path for the second half but it does so justifiably – it has more story to tell and doesn’t really waste time. Maybe it didn’t need to be as long as it is, but I didn’t find myself wishing for it to end, and the crux of the movie really is the most cliché-teen-movie part of it, reminiscent of the climax in Crazy, Stupid, Love. The length allows for both families to become well-established characters, each with their own exaggerations and quirks.
Ultimately, Being Frank may be two hours of character types you’ve met before doing things you’ve seen before, but when it relies so heavily on tropes that are known to work there’s a level of guarantee that elements will mix well together. It definitely could have been better, and the emotions could have come through more, but at the end of the day if what they were aiming to make is a fun summer movie for the family to enjoy then drink up and relax, it is spring break, after all.
by Georgia Carroll
Georgia Carroll is a Broadcast Journalism student from the University of Leeds, currently living and studying in Wellington, New Zealand. She is a proud Mancunian who loves radio, film and pretty much anything sci-fi or 80s. You can find her on twitter @georgiacarroll_ and letterboxd