FROWNLAND (director/writer: Richard Bronstein; cinematographer: Sean Williams; editor: Richard Bronstein; music: Paul Grimstad; cast: Dore Mann (Keith Sontag), Mary Wall (Laura), Paul Grimstad (Charles), David Sandholm (Sandy), Carmine Marino (Carmine), Paul Grant (Exam-Man), Marc Raybin (Proctor); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Marc Raybin; Factory 25; 2007)
“Lynch’s Eraserhead has nothing on this head-trip pic when it comes to weirdness.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The directorial debut of Richard Bronstein for this mumblecore self-financed low-budget pic, shot in grimy 16mm. It’s an intense character study about an inarticulate twentysomething loser residing in New York’s outer-borough of Brooklyn, who goes sweaty and apologetic in his quest to survive everyday life (pay the bills, do his dead-end job and try to communicate with others who have nothing in common with him). Lynch’s Eraserhead has nothing on this head-trip pic when it comes to weirdness.Though more annoying than enjoyable, the artless Frownland is one of those unique indies that is irresistible and difficult to stop watching even if it’s almost unwatchable. But what makes it a fascinating viewing experience is that there seems to be something brilliant about it, even if I can’t put into words what that is.
The film’s protagonist is the self-effacing depressive mental wreck Keith Sontag (Dore Mann), who is solicitous, needy, socially awkward and pathologically disjointed (constantly rubbing his face, having snot run down his nose and unable to stop himself from tripping over his own words). He’s so unpleasant, that no one can stand being around him (even his only friend Sandy-David Sandholm) and coldly dismiss him as if he were a piece of turd they stepped on. Keith has a girlfriend (Mary Wall, the director’s wife), who is a weepy mental train wreck herself and can barely communicate with him but has enough gumption that she can stop his clumsy sexual advances by sticking a push pin in his arm. Another character in his life is an aspiring musician (Paul Grimstad) roommate, who detests Keith and refers to him as a “burbling troll.” The hapless lad sleeps next to his oven in his squalid Brooklyn crib. During the day Keith ineptly works as a door-to-door salesman for a charity drive that works the suburbs, where he’s driven in a van with other workers to sell coupons–supposedly to help those with multiple sclerosis.
The misery depicted is so overwhelming and there’s no love ever given to the downtrodden lad, even by his Freudian therapist, that the lad gains some sympathy just for not turning out to be a Frankenstein monster. That the deadbeat Keith can generate some sympathy is the miracle of this pic that perhaps can’t be explained, only disputed by those who couldn’t stick it out to its conclusion and never had it in them to pay close attention to what was going down. I would recommend it only for those looking for an uncompromising film that tries hard not to be entertaining or analytical, but offers an eye-opening look at someone who is drifting by his lonesome self through life in a very scary anti-social way.
The film’s title is derived fromCaptain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica: “My smile is stuck. I cannot go back to your Frownland.”
REVIEWED ON 2/11/2011 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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