Movie review: Franky Five Star (German Film Festival)

(courtesy IMDb)

Beloved though the established romantic comedy tropes and cliches may be, there is something refreshing about a film that dares to take them all, throw them in the air, and smartly and quirkily rearrange on their way down.

A film like Franky Five Star which takes the rom-com genre and reformats it in such some really fun, quite affecting and sweetly meaningful ways that manage to be both magically and imaginatively out there and yet groundedly moving and charming.

The movie centres, not surprisingly on Franky (Lena Urzendowsky), a taciturn young woman who clearly wants more out of life than she’s getting but who is held back time and again in her career, her relationships and her domestic situation by shyness and a reticence to push too hard.

It’s hard to tell at first if this is purely personality, the result of trauma or of something else entirely but she clearly wants more, relying, and not without some risk of derailment of all that squirrelled away home and possibility, on the four personalities within her, all of whom live in a strangely retro, down-on-its-luck art deco hotel where they are both staff and residents.

When she needs to feel more sexy or outspoken or playful or simply keep all her ducks in a row and revert to some good old, well-executed common sense, Franky calls her inner personalities Ella (Sophie Killer), Frank (Sven Hönig), Lenny (Cecilio Andresen) and Mrs Franke (Gerti Drassl) respectively to give her life those extra elements she feels she can’t, at least in her repressed regular guise.

Each of these personalities, who compete for their moment at the forefront of Franky’s consciousness, make their way up to prominence via an old-fashioned and somewhat rickety lift which ushers them up and Franky down who is at ease with these people who range in age from a child (Lenny) to an older woman (Mrs Franke) and in-between.

It’s an ingenious method not only of representing the many fractured facets of Franky’s being but how she interacts with them, being both warmly familiar with them but also unnerved by how they seem to act without any cognisance on her part, creating problems that regular Franky has to fix up later.

But for all the danger in letting them loose, and there are times when Franky has no say in things and the personalities jump in the lift without permission, she needs them because they are the missing parts of her whole, or at least the parts that she finds too frightening or unnerving to bring into who she is.

She tells no one about her fragile mental health state, with her roommate and best friend Katja (Meryem Öz), her boyfriend Hasi (Cino David) and their upstairs neighbour our Roman (Paul Pötsch) simply shrugging her behavioural oddities as just Frankyly being weirdly and wonderfully Franky.

It all feels reasonably under control, well as “under control” as herding competing personalities can be, and keeping your mental health struggles under wraps – the word “struggle” is often one eschewed by advocates in the mental health space but as someone who struggles with severe anxiety and depression at times, it feels like a struggle much of the time and Franky embodies how difficult it can be – until Franky realise she is falling for Hasi which will have all kinds of messy consequences if she acts on her feelings.

She has no intention of doing anything of the sort, even though though she likes Hasi, even more so after he playfully kisses as a part of flirtatious game at a party she and Katja host in their apartment, but her personalities, especially Ella have other ideas and much of the surreal fun of the Franky Five Star comes from watching her try to minimise the mess they make even as they edge towards the very life she actually wants.

With a real empathy and insight about the way in which mental health issues can play havoc with a person’s life, Franky Five Star is a gem of a rom-com which adds some real thoughtfulness and weird inventiveness to the rom-com genre as it explores what falling in love is like when parts of you are competing for their own moment in the existential sun.

While it is a little slow at times, the film manages by and large to sustain Franky’s slow, faltering and near disastrous moves to some form of forward progression, even addressing how she might find some healing in the midst of a situation that seems to offer nothing of the kind.

With moments of sheer escapism and free-thinking charm, and a beautiful evocation of what it is like to want to so much when you feel so desperately limited by the fractures within your sense of self, Franky Five Star is both a warmly honest examination of what it is like to live with a dissociative disorder which traps you in a chaotic place where life is more sustained than progressed and a celebration of what it means to hope and long for something better and more wonderful than what you have now.

For many people simple grabbing that next brass ring of what you want is as simple as going for it, but for a sizeable number of people it’s never that simple, and while Franky wants love and she wants rich, open friendship and even a job she really likes, she finds herself always caught in the want and not in the having.

Franky Five Star does a beautifully playful and emotionally affecting job of moving its titular character from the wanting to the having, achieving that seemingly impossible feat (to Franky anyway) in ways that are confronting and delightful, sometimes all at once, encouraging us to see finding love, like so many other things in life, not as some simplistic linear ride to an easy goal but a series of back and forth steps at war with themselves, the successful surmounting of which is not guaranteed and which, if it is achieved, is quite possibly the most wonderful thing there is around.

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