underrated: small apartments
- By Patrick O’Donoghue
Few films manage to straddle the dividing line between cheap, tawdry brainlessness and quirky, eccentric charisma with the same offbeat aplomb as the vastly underrated Small Apartments. Released in 2012 to a muted critical reception, Small Apartments always deserved to be held in higher regard, not for its chewing-gum-like entertainment factor, but rather for its subtly conveyed, yet profound message that time is not to be wasted.
Small Apartments is a sleazy, comic adventure that follows the hapless capers of freakish main character Franklin Franklin (portrayed by Little Britain’s Matt Lucas). We see him search for happiness, an escape from the routine humiliation of his grubby existence in a squalid building complex, and for closure following the death of his beloved brother Bernard (James Marsden). The cast in this oddity features an eclectic mix of Hollywood misfits and veterans, such as Johnny Knoxville, Juno Temple, Billy Crystal and James Caan. Each character depicted in the film is damaged in some way, striving for better but ultimately succumbing to a familiar, endless cycle of miserable failure and bad habits. We find ourselves in the thick of this den of desperados, with their vain hopes of self-improvement squashed against the backdrop of the oppressive underbelly of Southern California where vile landlords, joyriding bandits and a general sense of despair rule.
Out of all this sordid chaos comes our unlikely hero; the hairless, Switzerland-obsessed Franklin Franklin, whose main pastimes are eating pickles with mustard, drinking large bottles of Moxxie soda and, much to the vexation of his curmudgeonly old neighbour Mr. Allspice (James Caan), playing a long alpine horn. Despite his meek disposition, Franklin ends up killing his exploitative landlord Mr. Olivetti. This triggers a farcical sequence of events that eventually leads to the revelation that Franklin has been bequeathed a small fortune by his dead brother Bernard. Franklin goes on to miraculously evade being held responsible for Mr. Olivetti’s demise, at last realising his dream of moving to Switzerland. Franklin, against all odds, succeeds in untethering himself from all the ignominy, all the pain of that small life he had once passively spent languishing in a small apartment. No longer to be downtrodden, Franklin finds his freedom, his bliss.
Wisdom can be found in the strangest of places and this is no more strikingly apparent than in the case of this peculiar creation. By the end of the lurid tale we cannot help but feel uplifted and enlightened. The delightful paradox of Small Apartments lies in its ability to present us with the most degenerate and hopeless of lifestyles and then, with no hint of irony, offer us an instructive philosophy for fulfilment. An experience as gloriously improbable as receiving thoughtful life advice from a drug-addled, alcoholic dropout. However, the value of this film’s closing meditation on the necessity of seizing life for all its worth is something we would be foolish to dismiss. Just as Franklin Franklin shambolically stumbled out of his darkness and into a new light, this highly underrated film urges us to do the same.