My dad’s a dick,” announces high-school senior Philip (Logan Miller) at the beginning of Being Frank. That’s putting it mildly. The title character (Jim Gaffigan) bullies and nags his son incessantly about everything from his appearance to his schoolwork, while basically ignoring his long-suffering wife (Anna Gunn) and daughter (Emerson Tate Alexander). Frank is in Philip’s face every waking moment. If the son wants it, the father is against it. Frank briefly seems gratified when Philip gets an acceptance letter from NYU, then brusquely notifies the kid they can’t afford the tuition.
To discuss the movie, it’s necessary to share certain plot developments. If you want to watch these surprises unfold onscreen, stop reading now.
One summer day, as Frank departs for one of his frequent “business trips to Japan,” Philip sneaks out on a road trip with his buddy, to a resort town where the family has a lakeside summer house. It’s there that the two boys suddenly glimpse Philip’s dad reuniting with a complete second family of his own, including another wife (Samantha Mathis) and two teenage children (Isabelle Phillips and Gage Banister) who get everything they want from their father. In one of those implausible ruses commonplace to sitcoms, the wounded Philip impulsively barges into Family #2’s home, introduces himself as an acquaintance, and takes vengeful delight in making Frank invent outrageous lies to cover himself. Things devolve from there, in a queasy combination of melodrama and farce.
Character actor Gaffigan has a lively career as a standup comic, TV guest star, and in supporting roles in films. Here, he does such a convincingly repellant job as the cheating ogre that he dominates the action. Even after he’s found out, Frank is totally unrepentant, with the same arrogant boss attitude. We don’t sympathize with him in the slightest, despite his lame excuses. We want to see him arrested for bigamy and sent to prison.
That’s a steep hill for an ostensibly easy-going summer comedy to climb. Gaffigan is so overpowering as the loathsome Frank that everything else takes a back seat. Being Frank might aspire to creating a forgiving, feel-good mood, but instead it’s a depressing portrait of betrayal. Good luck with that.