Small Apartments focuses in on the small lives lived inside of a run-down Los Angeles apartment complex on the wrong side of the tracks. Little Britain’s Matt Lucas is both creepy and sympathetic in his stellar performance as the eccentric Franklin Franklin, an underwear-clad Swiss alphorn-playing weirdo who accidentally kills his horrible landlord (Fargo’s Peter Stormare). Franklin adores his handsome, charismatic older brother (James Marsden) who lives in a mental institution and sends him daily letters, cassette tapes of his rantings and ravings, and fingernail clippings. One day when no letter arrives, Franklin panics and goes to investigate what’s happened to his sibling.
Franklin’s soda bottle-filled apartment is flanked by those of his neighbors, Tommy Balls, a ne’er do well stoner liquor store worker (played by a terrific Johnny Knoxville) and Mr. Allspice, a bitter, divorced painter who moved into the building and just never left (James Caan). Neither can stand freaky Franklin or his annoying alphorn playing.
The cast is rounded out by Billy Crystal, whose wonderfully nuanced and unexpectedly hilarious performance as the world-weary and spray-tanned fire investigator Dolph Lundgren introduces the audience to an egotistical moonlighting pop psychologist preaching the gospel of “brain brawn”. Juno Temple plays an aspiring teen stripper with dreams of Vegas who lives in the building and the always pitch-perfect Amanda Plummer shares awkwardly sweet screen time with Knoxville as Tommy Balls’ worried mother.
Director Jonas Åkerlund is practically a legend for his music video work (Madonna’s “Ray of Light,” Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up,” Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s “Telephone” and dozens of other iconic clips), known for his meticulous eye, strong art direction, innovative camerawork and clever edits. The slow-moving Small Apartments, is, as the title implies, a small film, but one that features an impressive A-list cast and, despite the Coen Brothers-esque darkness of the plot, an ultimately uplifting message.
The screenplay was written by Chris Millis and adapted from his own novella, which won the 23rd Annual International 3-Day Novel Contest in 2000. The movie’s haunting soundtrack comes courtesy of Swedish composer Per Gessle.