is almost always on the rocks. Any outside observer of the couple would suggest that the two immediately end whatever it is they have going on. The movie, which is also written by Ross, is never able to bring the audience close enough into the characters' points of view to see it differently. Instead, those watching are treated to two people lying to one another, acting horrifically to those around them, and perpetuating a constant sense of doom.
First, there is Frank (Michael Shannon), a chef who moved to France at a young age, worked his way up in kitchens, and is now in Vegas trying to make it big. Then, there's Lola (Imogen Poots), an aspiring designer who just finished school and is looking for that initial big break. The two meet, begin dating, and things fall apart. It is a little difficult to determine just how long it takes for the whole thing to go bad—and there is a series of confusing back-and-forth time jumps which exist, presumably, to convince the audience that at one time the couple loved each other—but things do go bad.
So much of that falling apart is troublingly telegraphed and worse, it feels as though it could be avoided if the couple would talk openly and honestly to each other. This, however, is not their way. Instead, there is lying and cheating and jealousy and madness and little, if any, reason for the audience to care about it all.
Frank is a guy who loves to cook but at no point does Ross take the time to truly show us that love. It isn't depicted in preparation of meals and when other people compliment him on his food; more often than not Frank responds by becoming stiff and unaccepting of the kind words.
Lola is no better. While she unquestionably has problems not of her own making, she also has a tendency to lie and hide things, making it utterly impossible to figure out when she is actually offering up a true tale.
This is a character study, but one which never allows the audience to truly get at the characters. Both Frank and Lola have walls put up to defend them against everyone and everything, and the walls don't really come down. Instead, rage or hatred or sadness spills up over the top, offering the sense of what's behind the wall, but never truly showing it.
Frank & Lola is a movie completely obsessed with the seedy side of relationships, and not just with that of the two main characters. Beyond Frank and Lola, there is a French couple, Alan (Michael Nyqvist) and Claire (Emmanuelle Devos), who have an "understanding" about seeing other people and who meet one another at sex clubs. There is also Lola's boss, Keith (played by Justin Long), who is a little too enthusiastic about helping Lola out. Frank certainly thinks this exuberance from Keith is about Keith's wanting to be with Lola, and Frank may actually be right about this, but then Keith disappears for an incredibly long stretch in the film. This denies the audience a true understanding of Keith's motivations, removing from the whole affair the one person who may actually have good intentions.
In fact, the audience is regularly denied an understanding of many of the characters' motivations. Frank, for instance, has an opportunity to audition in France for a great restaurant job which would be back in Vegas, but he treats the audition—or seems treat it—with a complete lack of respect. The audience is to believe that this is because of his obsessive worry about what is happening with Lola, but it doesn't play out that way. Instead, it is more of the same – Frank is angry and upset and frustrated and just a generally horrible person to be around. He is this way for so much of the time he's on screen that this particular instance doesn't play as different.
At the very least, the look of Ross' film complements the characters. It is a movie heavy on shadows and darkness. But perhaps even that isn't good; too much is obscured, too much is hidden – both in the characters and the look of the movie. This is not a Vegas, nor a Paris, one would want to visit.
There is, without a doubt, an intensity to the performances given by Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots. They both explore what it means to exist for an extended period with a singular darkness at the core of their being. The result though is a movie that is unrelenting in its grim outlook. Even in happy moments, it all tastes like ash, and, like ash, the more one thinks about what they have seen, the more one tries to reach out and grab it and understand it, the more it crumbles into nothingness.