Frank (Jim Gaffigan) is CEO of a family-owned ketchup business, a position that provides him and his family with a comfortable living, but requires him to be on the road a lot. He tries to make up for his frequent absences by laying down the law when he is at home, a move that predictably draws the resentment of his 17-year-old son Philip (Logan Miller) who, like many teenagers, is pretty much locked up in a world defined by his own desires.
Having a frequently absent Dad is not entirely a bad thing, however, as Phil uses one of Frank’s business trips as an opportunity to take off for spring break with his best pal Lewis (Daniel Rashid). Their destination is a lake house owned by Lewis’ uncle Ross (Alex Karpovsky), who turns out to be a barely functioning stoner, but that’s not the real surprise of this youthful adventure. While Philip and Lewis are visiting a swimming pool, Philip spots his Dad with a much younger woman (Isabelle Phillips). That’s two surprises for the price of one, since Frank is supposed to be in Japan, and certainly should not be gallivanting about with some young lady his wife and kids are unaware of. The good news: she’s not his mistress. The bad news: she’s his daughter. Frank, it turns out, has two families, each of which is unaware of the existence of the other (the film takes place in pre-smartphone 1992, which makes this story somewhat more plausible).
Philip decides to pay an incognito visit to Frank’s second family, consisting of his wife Bonnie (Samantha Mathis), son Eddie Gage Polchlopek), and daughter Kelly (Phillips). This actually makes him feel worse, since they seem to him to be better in every way than his own family, and they also seem to actually like each other. That’s mostly his teenage insecurity talking, however—to me they seem to be, like Flitcraft’s two families in The Maltese Falcon, to be more alike than they are different. Be that as it may, when Frank walks into the room, everything changes—now that he knows that Philip knows his secret, the balance of power has shifted in their father-son relationship and Philip doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of it.
The fact that some men want the benefits of traditional marriage without themselves being restricted to monogamy is not exactly news, nor is the case of an offender hiding behind an elaborate breastplate of righteousness. The particular version of that desire that results in maintaining multiple families has even been explored ith sensitivity and insight, for example in Nathanial Kahn’s My Architect. Should a director’s taste run to the lighter side of things, the one man/two families situation also offers many opportunities for farce. Unfortunately director Miranda Bailey and screenwriter Glen Lakin take little advantage of either the dramatic or comedic riches available in this fictional situation. Instead, they seem unable to pick a lane, resulting in a tonally inconsistent, unsatisfying film that is neither funny nor insightful, and will mainly be of interest to diehard fans of Jim Gaffigan.
The biggest shame in Being Frank (formerly titled You Can Choose Your Family, which does tend to give the twist away) is its neglect of Anna Gunn, who plays Philip’s mother: she’s a fine actress who deserves better than being mocked for her weight and generally being treated as an afterthought. Emerson Tate Alexander, the actress playing Philip’s little sister Lib, also seems like she could be a lot of fun, but is stuck in a throwaway role. Too bad, but not surprising–in a film that’s full of wasted opportunities, Gunn and Alexander’s roles are just two more examples of a screenwriter and director neglecting the opportunities offered them in favor of settling for what amounts to not much at all. | Sarah Boslaugh