Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 16 March 2007
Source 35mm print
I exited the theater shortly after the end credits for Frownland began. For much of its duration, the film is a relentless exhibition of awkwardness and anxiety. These aspects begin to become instilled in the viewer; exiting the film becomes a concentrated effort to deter one’s sudden depression after having sit through it. And yet, as disheartening an experience as this was, it remains a beautiful film. Shot in 16 millimeter, many portions are without action or dialogue so one may relish the grainy, seemingly vintage quality of the film stock.
What it concerns amounts to Keith, a disarmingly uncomfortable Brooklyn resident whose apartment is solely comprised of a mattress flush against a kitchen counter. It is such a considerable struggle for him to conjure responses in everyday conversations, as mere stutters emerge involuntarily from his tangible inhibition—when he does speak, it usually follows minutes of silence. The camera retains a pathological interest in the mundaneness of his life: he’ll awaken from an afternoon nap, take a shower, or clean the dishes – none of these actions crucial to what precedes or follows.
Keith holds a job as a door-to-door coupon salesman, and he is incompetent at it, one customer retrieving a coupon book out of his hands without payment, as his stuttering will not subside long enough for him to overcorrect the transaction. Despite his social incompatibility, Keith possesses compassion and responsibility, but his actions are so incessantly burdened that these are latently realized traits. His first extra-social encounter is with a friend, a girl, whom he is to console. She lays in his makeshift bedroom and cries, as he sits beside her and for several minutes struggles to produce the right words in consolation. They don’t come out, and she jabs a thumbtack into his forearm. He stares at it for another several minutes, as the physical pain — much like his everyday struggles — is gradual in triggering the neural synapses that will finally prompt him to remove it.
There are other scenes like the aforementioned, and the final third of the film is a mounting aural escalation as Keith runs in a panic through the city night, arriving at a party to which he has apparently not been invited. It grows louder and more disorienting, before a morning sunrise that accompanies the final credits. Frownland is an unspectacular film, but uniquely, powerfully cathartic.