Writer/director Matthew Ross' debut feature Frank & Lola follows a Las Vegas chef named Frank (Michael Shannon) and a much younger woman named -- you guessed it -- Lola (Imogen Poots) who complicates his life. Poots imbues the initially sexy, confident woman with a toxic vulnerability as Lola reveals secrets that cause Frank to doubt the strength of their relationship -- and compel him to dig deeper into her past.
A top-tier supporting cast includes Michael Nyqvist as unrepentant slimeball Alan (he played a similarly sinister role in the excellent John Wick) and Emmanuelle Devos as the slimeball's wife. But the film's success depends upon the tension between Frank and Lola, and even this cast can't overcome what feels like an essential disconnect in the central relationship. Driven, obsessive men are Shannon's bread and butter -- see his stellar turns in Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special and Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals for two recent examples -- but Frank's compulsion to track down Alan and punish him is more believable than the depth of his connection with Lola.
Despite Shannon's intensity and Poots' complex charisma, the conflict and connection remain ambiguous — is Frank being taken advantage of? Even his background as a French-trained chef, which brings him to Paris for an audition, where he further investigates Lola's past, feels incongruous as we see him making his way around the city -- like the overtures of love he makes toward Lola, the French language turns to mush in Shannon's mouth. The film has elements of noir without the genre's visual or tonal clarity, and culminates in a bland whimper of an ending. It depicts the labors of love, but the love comes across as little more than laborious.