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Small Apartments

2012 | 97 min | R | 1.85:1

Small Apartments


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Theatrical release date

 08 February, 2013
 22 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Small Apartments Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 22, 2013

Matt Lucas is a British comedian who received his first taste of American success with the release of “Bridesmaids,” where he played Gil, the working man trying to push unemployed Annie (Kristen Wiig) out of an apartment he shares with his sister (Rebel Wilson). The small supporting role caught significant attention, leading to a starring role in “Small Apartments,” a comedy about Los Angeles residents in various states of disrepair. It’s a not a particularly impressive feature, but it does offer a creative step forward for Lucas, who provides a bravely unglamorous performance and a general muting of his comedic impulses, also surrounding him with an oddball ensemble inhabiting all forms of disillusionment.

Living alone in his decrepit Los Angeles apartment, Franklin Franklin (Matt Lucas) goes about his daily business consuming large quantities of cola, downing mustard-covered pickles, blowing on his alphorn, and spying on his jailbait neighbor, Simone (Juno Temple). On this day, Franklin also has to contend with the dead body of his landlord, Olivetti (Peter Stormare), sprawled out on the floor. Conducting his daily business clad only in his underwear and a wig, Franklin greets the suspicion of neighbor Allspice (James Caan), who can’t stand the horn, while another neighbor, stoner Tommy (Johnny Knoxville), contends with his lazy girlfriend (Rebel Wilson) and his disapproving mother (Amanda Plummer). In an effort to pass off Olivetti’s death as a suicide, Franklin botches the cover-up, triggering an investigation by Fire Inspector Walnut (Billy Crystal), who’s dealing with his own domestic issues. Guided by daily affirmations and rants from committed brother Bernard (James Marsden), whose life was altered after contact with teachings from self-help guru Dr. Mennox (Dolph Lundgren), Franklin attempts to return his life to what passes for normal, clinging to a dream of a bright future in Switzerland.

“Small Apartments” is a surreal comedy, which is to be expected from the man who helmed the methamphetamine odyssey “Spun” a decade ago. Dialing down the mania while retaining the same editorial snap and fixation on askew behavior, director Jonas Akerlund treats the script by Chris Mills (based on his novel) as a giant art-school play set, imagining a rundown L.A. apartment complex teeming with outlandish, diseased characters who all hate one another, yet insist on daily interactions. The units represent the shrouded hearts of the personalities, decorated and colored accordingly, with Franklin’s dwelling a suffocating area of filth, filled with empty soda bottles, pictures of Switzerland, and a giant alphorn -- the significance of such an instrument is hilariously revealed later in the movie. Franklin himself is sight to behold, with Akerlund emphasizing Lucas’s appearance (the actor has Alopecia universalis) by keeping him clad in tighty whities for the duration of the feature, while sticking various wigs on the actor to maintain the shut-in’s odd insistence on vanity while the rest of his life and appearance atrophies.

A music video maestro, Akerlund knows his way around a camera, and “Small Apartments” has as an idiosyncratic style that’s intriguing enough to cover for a story that isn’t realized to satisfaction. The picture tries to zip along on a rush of oddness, but it’s best fixating on ugliness and loneliness, finding highlights through neighborly interactions, allowing the crash of insecurities and defense mechanisms to enchant, away from ill-defined business involving Bernard’s meltdown and Franklin’s attempt to get rid of Olivetti’s body. Nothing’s sketched out in full, but time with various characters is most welcome, with many of the performances surprisingly competent. Knoxville is suspiciously non-grating as Tommy, expressing authentic emotion as the frustrated pothead, and Marsden has a grand old time playing against type, letting loose as a man struggling with his insanity. Crystal is also a pleasure, muting his natural energy to play a sarcastic alcoholic, though he still lands a few Billyisms along the way.

Strangely, “Small Apartments,” after issuing all types of grotesqueries and illness, actually sniffs around for a life-affirming conclusion, attempting to tie up the loose ends of the story with a string of epiphanies that clear away the clouds for each character. It’s a strange shift of tone, though one that’s euphorically scored by Per Gessle (one half of the band Roxette), helping to keep the picture upright during a dizzy finale. I’m not convinced “Small Apartments” is capable of such healing powers. The material is too thin to truly inspire, showing more skill as a map of madness, populated with greasy, grimy types who inhabit our world, yet refuse to abandon their own.

Starring: Matt Lucas (I), Billy Crystal, Juno Temple, James Marsden, Dolph Lundgren, Rebel Wilson
Director: Jonas Akerlund

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