We never learn exactly what ails Frownland’s protagonist: a sweaty, rambling mess named Keith who constantly rubs his face and trips over verbal potholes. (For the sake of actor Dore Mann, let’s hope this extreme psychological condition is merely a Streep-like exercise.) Keith sleeps next to his oven in cramped Brooklyn squalor; he’s a terrible door-to-door salesman and when his fed-up roommate calls him a “burbling troll,” you may find a trickle of honesty has suddenly escaped from the film’s vise. But there also comes a point when Keith becomes more sympathetic than anyone else on screen—a big step forward for a character who’s this hard to stand.
Frownland, written, directed and edited in grimy 16mm by the tenacious Ronald Bronstein, has been shoehorned into the manufactured “mumblecore” moment; it certainly features a lot of mumbling. But unlike Andrew Bujalski’s scenier Mutual Appreciation, Bronstein’s movie is decidedly uncool, more like an outer-borough Gummo. For all of Keith’s excruciating splutters and snot-laden breakdowns, he occupies the center of an extreme version of New York life: the anxiety of paying rent and utilities, dealing with petty bosses, finding true companionship. You wish the amateurish shooting was less pronounced, but Frownland has real issues on its squirming brain.
Cast and crew