As a film student, we are geared towards finding a compelling story, the interesting characters that set our stories apart from others. It’s this ability that allows filmmakers to see the world differently. When you view your family for the first time after immersing yourself in this form of examination, it’s not surprising if there is an urge to want to turn the camera lens on their unique story.
That is exactly what filmmaker GJ (Johnny Simmons) does in the new film Frank and Cindy. The film takes an unapologetic look at his home life and the absent parents he is blessed with. Frank (Oliver Platt) is the lead singer of the 80s hit band OXO, his mother Cindy (Rene Russo) is the groupie who ended up the rock star. Home in-between film school and another arts academy, GJ goes home to save some money before the next big chapter of his life begins.
Film student, crazy family, messed up childhood all make for the perfect recipe for an interesting documentary. Frank and Cindy is not your normal documentary, as it is a mix of feature and footage that GJ is filming. This blending of styles is a welcomed changed to the typical mock-umentaries that pop up from time to time. The dual styles keeps the film entertaining, opening the view up to different perspectives and emotional perception.
However, there was something that slightly was a bother, the idea of a film student turning the camera on his own family. It is a cliche facet of a filmmaker’s journey through their education. All filmmakers have a need to tell a story, that’s what attracts them to the art form, but it’s a little overused when it comes to documentaries and the family around them.
It’s hard to critique something that indeed happened in real life (as director-writer GJ Echternkamp really did make a documentary about his parents), and something that is a true element of filmmakers personalities. It does take a fresh turn, however, and the reason behind GJ’s documentary is unique. The film also makes light of this fact and even calls this element out within itself. As meta as that sounds, it’s appreciated.
Telling a story about a crazy family and abandoned childhood could easily fall into the tropes of coming of age stories, but the subtle way the audiences perceptions changed for the “characters” through the documentary is interesting. Not only is the audience going on this ride through GJ’s life, but we are experiencing an emotional roller coast as we learn more about the parents. Nothing is what it seems, and the film gently guides you down this path to rediscovery.
In order to tell the story correctly, Echternkamp needed to find the perfect representation of his family, and succeeded with actors Rene Russo and Oliver Platt. They bring to the screen an energy I have yet to see from them in previous films. I was blown away by these actors, and even more so when they are compared to their real-life counterparts.
It’s movies like these that make you realize just how great actors that you love truly are. These two actors have been in countless movies with endearing characters, and it’s easy to pick a handful of them that you love. Seeing them in a new light, bringing forth an energy of reality and fiction, is a pleasure to watch on screen.
This path is not only examining life at home, but life in general. With the introduction of Kate (Jane Levy), GJ realizes that he is progressing as well. Whether out of fear or ignorance at times it's hard to truly know ourselves, and only when we find out equal can we see where improvement is needed. That what Kate is to GJ, an equal he never expected to meet at this interlude, and one that allows him to open up just as much as his documentary subjects. This vulnerability doesn't overpower the story, or feel out of place within the context of the overall arc of the film, it's a perfect blend of all the emotions expressed in the film.
Most importantly, though, this film is fun to watch. It’s an engaging film about family and how sometimes the only way to strengthen a relationship is by tearing it apart. Between the flow of the story and the perfectly casted actors, Frank and Cindy is a great film to watch. You may not be able to identify with the level of crazy in the family, but it’s easy to connect to the love that all families share.
Frank and Cindy is now available on VOD platforms.
Written by Lisa Mejia