SXSW 2012 Review: Like Its Setting, ‘Small Apartments’ Is Cheap, Dirty, and Gross

By  · Published on March 17th, 2012

The skin-crawling world of Small Apartments is presented without irony or judgment – so it’s not surprising that, in such an off-kilter environment, Matt Lucas’ Franklin Franklin (yes, that’s really his name) sounds relatively sane. Even when he’s off-handedly confessing to the murder of his landlord, Lucas’ delivery is so deadpan that no one takes him seriously – after all, why would Franklin kill anyone? Oh, possibly because (like everybody else in his crumbling apartment building) he’s totally deranged?

Based on Chris Millis’ novel of the same name, Jonas Åkerlund’s film centers on Franklin’s life in the days following the death of his evil landlord (Peter Stormare). Franklin’s life is normally pretty weird, and having a dead body hanging out in his dingy apartment isn’t helping matters. His neighbors (including Johnny Knoxville, Rebel Wilson, Juno Temple, and James Caan – a supporting cast deserving of much better than this production) aren’t capable of aiding him either, but they’re sure good at popping up at inopportune moments and being just as wacked out as Franklin. Not troubles enough? Franklin also has a unstable brother (James Marsden) to deal with, a cunning fire inspector (Billy Crystal) on his tail, and lingering memories of the cartoonish Dr. Sage Mennox (Dolph Lundgren) to shake. Oh, he’s also bald. Franklin eventually discloses why his hair fell out (or, really, why he thinks it fell out), but he’s clearly not over it, evidenced by the fact that he refuses to leave his apartment without one of his assortment of wigs on his head – even as he generally refuses to wear pants.

Small Apartments appears to revile in its revulsion – it’s gross and weird and dirty and unapologetic about the whole thing. Lucas spends the majority of the film in a dingy pair of tighty-whities, and both Wilson and Temple get ridiculously and partially naked for no real reason. And there’s bending over – a lot of bending over. There’s also rape and assault and infidelity and possible hoarding behavior. After all of that, if its audience has continued to hang in and endure the assault, they’re rewarded with a cheesy, claptrap ending that’s both unearned and unwelcome. An hour and a half of the cheap stuff doesn’t equal a hippie-dippie ending that tries to appear rich and profound.

Director Åkerlund is best known for his music video work, and Small Apartments would surely benefit from being similarly short, mainly because it crafts such an oppressive and disgusting environment that an extended stay is the last thing anyone would want. Small Apartments wastes a solid and interesting cast, dumbs down just about every element, and rewards its audience with nothing but sleaze and false depth.

The Upside: Scattered humor; attempts at profundity.

The Downside: Attempts at profundity! Cheap, dirty, trashy, garish, gross – yup, that’s about it.

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