Trapped in a seedy LA apartment, Franklin Franklin (Matt Lucas) has a dead landlord on the kitchen floor and is surrounded by eccentric neighbors: the stoner (Johnny Knoxville) and girlfriend (Rebel Wilson), the wanna-be stripper (Juno Temple) and the artist (James Caan). To add to his chaos, a drunk investigator (Billy Crystal) is questioning him about his landlord. But none of this fazes Franklin. He dreams of Switzerland, and waits each day for an envelope from his institutionalized brother (James Marsden). Then, one day the envelope doesn’t come and Franklin becomes unhinged. Little does he know…his crazy brother has the secret that will set him free.
I read the novel this film was based upon, back when it was a gift from the author, a family friend. I found myself mentally casting actors to play the amazingly quirky but identifiable characters. A great amount of time passed before “Small Apartments” found its way into the hands of a director who “got it”.
I have to say that it is difficult, for me, not to compare this work to that of Tarantino, if only for the raw emotional concept, quirky behaviors and “street view” filming process. However, the combination of Millis (who wrote both the novel and the screenplay) and Akerlund (the director) bring the dark side of everyday humanity into perfect view without glorifying the gore and violence so many filmmakers succumb to. The violence is acceptable, even necessary, as are the few sexual scenes that lend credence to the story and personalities that make up this labor of love. Tarantino’s got absolutely nothing on these guys!
The cast is, well… correct! I can’t imagine anyone other than the “heavyweights” who breathe life into characters like Franklin Franklin (Matt Lucas), Burt Walnut (Billy Crystal) and Tommy Balls (Johnny Knoxville) but it doesn’t stop there. You’ve got the talent of James Caan, Amanda Plummer, Juno Temple, Dolph Lundgren and veritable unknown, Scott Sheldon, who makes his few moments as Officer Smith a lasting impression. The casting list is mighty and recognizable, but these folks were drawn to the characters created by Millis and the vision of Akerlund, rather than a paycheck.
There is a story, one that compels us to realize how little we understand one another in this all too short existence on the planet and lays bare our preconceptions and misconceptions of who we see and how we react and assign personal judgement. You don’t need to be a “deep thinker” to get this film and that’s the beauty of it. The old saying that “money can’t buy happiness” is true and untrue… both are addressed in Small Apartments, however, it brings home the very real point that true happiness lives in our mind, however small or large! I was both eager and apprehensive about finally watching this film, especially knowing the author, screenplay writer and executive producer (Chris Millis) on a personal level… I’m so glad I gave in to eager! Bravo! This is a must see!