In “Being Frank,” an alleged comedy set in 1992, Philip (Logan Miller) is a vaguely grungy rebel who longs to leave his small town to study music at N.Y.U. Philip has flimsy plans to suit his flimsy character — his only meaningful trait is his filial resentment. Directed by Miranda Bailey, the film itself is similarly depleted: It’s a period movie with little style and a family flick wholly lacking in charm or warmth.
Philip’s father, Frank (Jim Gaffigan), is a ketchup company executive whose frequent trips to Japan have made him an absentee parent. He compensates for his time away with strictness, insisting Philip stay close to home for college. Philip retaliates by running away for spring break, but a chance sighting of his father leads him to a secret: Frank’s business trips are a sham to hide a second family.
Improbably, Philip neither informs the two duped households, nor does he seek revenge. Instead, he tries to blackmail his father for college tuition, and ingratiates himself in Frank’s second home using a fake identity. Philip quickly becomes invested in the charade and begins to help Frank maintain it.
At its best, Frank’s shambling deception brings out the anxiety underlying Gaffigan’s lumbering comedic persona, but “Being Frank” is largely an incoherent viewing experience. At its worst, its dynamics are abusive and disturbing.
Frank has spent a lifetime lying to Philip, and he robbed two women of their right to make informed choices about pregnancy and marriage. Yet Philip revels in the fraud, enjoying the privilege his newfound knowledge gives him over the two families — a chilling prospect that the movie treats as heartwarming. It signals redemption with halfhearted waves of fatherly affection, ignoring the politics of this family affair.
Rated R. Language, sexual references and drug use. Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes.
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