After having a major misstep with 2009’s Horsemen, legendary music video director Jonas Åkerlund has returned to much more familiar territory with his new film, Small Apartments. Much like his first feature film, 2002’s Spun, Small Apartments deals with characters that lie on the outer fringes of society. Based on a novella that was written in three days by Chris Millis, who also adapted the screenplay, the film centers around Franklin Franklin (Matt Lucas), a disturbed individual that resides in an apartment building, that was a former motel. He’s obsessed with everything Switzerland and even plays an Alphorn, much to his neighbors dismay and dreams of getting out of the rut he’s currently in. When Franklin gets into some trouble with his landlord, Mr. Olivetti (Peter Stormare), he must find a way to gather courage in a moment of despair and wade his way through his eclectic neighbors, gang banger’s and even the tough streets of Los Angeles. A wonderful execution of balancing dark humor, with a few touching moments of poignancy, Small Apartments showcases a brilliant ensemble cast, a solid script and another notch that Åkerlund can add to his already impressive body of work.
Every single actor in Small Apartments nails it on every single level, from Matt Lucas, all the way down to the brief appearances of classic actors, like James Caan and Billy Crystal. Just in the same way that Jonas handled his meth addicts in Spun, there are but brief moments where we can find ourselves genuinely caring about a few of these damaged people, which shows the power in the cast’s performances. Even someone like Johnny Knoxville, who plays a pothead named Tommy Balls, manages to exude touching moments, something that I never thought possible.
Åkerlund maintains his wonderful visual style for Small Apartments and utilizes his background in music videos to give it some edge. There’s plenty of time lapses, rapid editing and even some visual nods that even harken back to Spun. The production design by Jakub Durkoth also links back to Åkerlund’s first film, highlighting the dinginess of the apartment complex and makes it feel like another character, among the many misfits that inhabit the film.
I can see some people having a problem with the film, since its centered around a giant group of unlikeable characters. Whether its due to the fact of Franklin running around in his underwear for a majority of the running time, or the creepiness of Mr. Olivetti, many of these people have terrible qualities to them. The approach to humanize many of these characters, with them having both good and bad qualities, makes them feel a bit more real and much more engaging then a bunch of beautiful looking people with boring problems. Small Apartments is an excellent black comedy, that makes full use of its cast and exudes plenty of style that should reward anyone that’s willing to give this little comedy a try. Highly Recommended!