Photo | Frances Ferguson
“Frances Ferguson” is a dark comedy about a dissatisfied wife who decides to change her life, but for the worse. Unhappily married and working as a substitute teacher, Frances transgresses rather seriously when she initiates a relationship with a teenage boy, but the film does not take that, or anything else, seriously at all. The sardonic distance between the viewer and the action is greatly increased by Nick Offerman’s droll narration of events, which is the best part of the movie.
Like a Midwestern David Attenborough, Offerman’s voiceover turns the undignified human misadventures onscreen into a kind of nature film. Imagine your own daily fumblings described with hilarious accuracy in Offerman’s arch growl. His omniscient interpretation unifies the tone of the film, which otherwise might be too nihilistic to watch. Frances is a very unlikeable character, miserable in her marriage to a complete idiot, and seemingly indifferent to their daughter. The fact no one comments on the daughter’s name being “Parfait” is a good indicator of the kind of comedy here.
As beautiful as she is, the zero-affect performance by Kaley Wheless (“The Highwaymen”) as Frances, which I’m sure was a conscious choice, is possibly too effective in terms of making the film compelling. Ultimately, however, there are narrative constructions in the film that make it less of a realistic drama and more of a stylized parable. While Frances’s dead-eyed misery follows her from her marriage to prison and is played for laughs, eventually, this weird movie gets more interesting when she starts to experience her misfortunes as the “reset” she was so desperate for.
A film festival favorite, “Frances Ferguson”’ feels like a throwback indie film like “Election” or “To Die For,” in which Nicole Kidman’s character took advantage of a teenage boy. While that film created a lurid atmosphere for its scandal, this treatment is as deadpan as it could possibly be. Whether this strikes you as funny or annoying will come down to a matter of personal taste.
What might seem like the end of Frances’s story — a jail sentence for having a relationship with one of her students — happens pretty early in the film. The suspense about what will happen to the main character isn’t really a factor. Rather, we see the surprisingly positive effects her punishment has on her. She forces a real change in her life, but instead of “Eat, Pray Love” it’s like “Jail, Community Service, Court-Mandated Group Therapy.” But it kind of works.
The therapy and the movie are more effective because David Krumholtz (“Numb3rs”) plays the therapist. The group sessions seem believably awkward, and filling the movie out with more characters helps, since Frances herself is kind of a cipher. “Frances Ferguson” is a good choice for viewers with the darkest and driest sense of humor; those who want a positive message from a film should look elsewhere. Although, the faint glimmer of redemption that appears in this film is all the more meaningful because it seemed so unlikely. However, the real source of wisdom is Offerman, whose interpretation of events transforms them into a banal, millennial Aesop’s fable.
“Frances Ferguson” is streaming on Amazon Prime.
The locally made independent film “Demon Squad” is set to receive what could be considered the highest honor a no-budget science-fiction flick could receive — it will be featured on season 13 of the cult show “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Of course, the entire premise of that show is characters watch a movie they mock, riff on and generally make fun of, so this is a very specific but pretty incredible experience for local filmmakers Thomas Smith and Erin Lilley, whose paranormal flick is currently available on Amazon.
New This Week
“Finding You”: After an ill-fated audition at a prestigious New York music conservatory, violinist Finley Sinclair (Rose Reid) travels to an Irish coastal village to begin her semester studying abroad. At the B&B run by her host family, she encounters gregarious and persistent heartthrob movie star Beckett Rush (Jedidiah Goodacre), who is there to film another installment of his medieval, fantasy-adventure franchise. As romance sparks between the unlikely pair, Beckett ignites a journey of discovery for Finley that transforms her heart, her music and her outlook on life. All listed multiplex theaters.
“Profile”: An undercover British journalist goes on a quest to bait and expose a terrorist recruiter through social media while trying not to be lured into becoming a militant extremist herself. The unconventional thriller plays out entirely on a computer screen in the Screenlife format pioneered by film director and producer Timur Bekmambetov (“Unfriended,” “Searching”). All listed multiplex theaters.
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