Small Apartments (2012)

Posted: March 2, 2013 in Movies


When Chris Millis entered  the International Three-Day Novel Contest in 2001, I doubt he had the foresight to see what was about to happen. The contest is exactly what it sounds like – aspiring writers have three days to compose an original novel. No more, no less. Millis’ entry “Small Apartments” won the event that year, and launched a mildly successful career as a novelist.

Fast forward t0 2010, which was when director Jonas Akerlund (more known for his work in the music video world) caught wind of the novel, and after reading (and loving) it, approached Millis to adapt a screenplay from the quirky novel.  The end result is the memorable, odd independent film of the same name that premiered at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival and is now available on DVD/BluRay.

The movie revolves around Franklin Franklin (played by Matt Lucas), a pale, pudgy, bald albino who – when not consuming orange soda – lives a quite, secluded life with dreams of living in Switzerland.  To pass the time, he plays his alpenhorn (much to the chagrin of his neighbors), has conversations with his dog, engages in voyeurism , and listens to cassettes sent daily from his brother Bernard (who has been institutionalized after going mental from reading self-help books). He rarely leaves his humble abode – but when he does, he makes sure to wear one of his many wigs while strangely disregarding the need to wear pants. For the most part, though, Franklin seems perfectly content amidst the piles of empty soda bottles and pictures of Switzerland taped haphazardly to his walls – and the dead body of his landlord laying in the middle of the floor.

While the focus of this dark comedy revolves around Franklin and his predicament of disposing of  the corpse (not an easy task in just your underwear, mind you), the side tales are just as intriguing and enjoyable. Each neighbor in the run down apartment complex has their own story. From the irresponsible convenience store clerk/punk rocker (portrayed by Johnny Knoxville) to the angry elderly artist (James Caan) – the film gives us representations of some very real human conditions. The characters suffer, struggle, and deal with everything life throws at them, all the while seeming content where their lives have taken them. It’s deeply funny and thought-provoking throughout, and that’s even before Franklin starts feeling the heat midway through the film.


The “heat” comes in the form of the fire marshall (brilliantly portrayed by Billy Crystal) who is investigating the disappearance of Franklin’s landlord. His character has his own problems: a cheating wife, a frustrating career, and a drinking problem (to name a few). Crystal’s effortless performance ties all these awkward outcasts – and their stories – together, resulting in one of the better indie films I’ve seen.

What makes it special is how well the cast embraces their roles. In a prime example of “less being more” , Crystal, Caan, and Lucas (alongside Juno Temple, James Mardsen, Rebel Wilson and others) create believable characters without going over the edge with their quirkiness.  Due to it’s limited release and quick-to-DVD status, the film was passed over for any major award nominations, but it’s as triumphant of a film as you will see this year.  Mind you, the humor is bleak and the film is blanketed in the subtle strangeness that usually accompanies independent films, but if that type of stuff is right up your alley, you won’t want to miss “Small Apartments”.

Rated R – 94 minutes

Available now on DVD and BluRay.


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