Upon the release of Frownland (DFF30) in 2007, writer/director Ronald Bronstein called his feature debut “both an overripe tomato lobbed with spazmo inaccuracy at the spotless surface of the silver screen and a mad valentine to the craggy tradition of unadulterated, cheap-o, ultra-independent expression.” As hard-hitting, hyperstimulating, and gleefully perverse as that description may have been, it was also spot-on.
This ferocious exemplar of nails-on-a-chalkboard realism centers on Keith Sontag, a self-described “troll from under the bridge” who leads a torturous existence hocking coupon books door-to-door in New York’s outer suburbs. His utter inability to articulate serves him as poorly on the job as off; suffering through interminable apologies as he struggles to complete a sentence, he proves a hapless and irritating presence. Worse, he is excruciatingly aware of the antipathy he arouses in others—among them his bully of a roommate, Charles, who refuses to pay his share of the rent (and who sidetracks the narrative by embarking upon his own miserable, dehumanizing job search). The hostility Keith constantly endures tends periodically to elicit our sympathy—until, that is, he squanders it anew with his profound lack of social graces. The devastating finale finds our antihero (played by onetime suicide-hotline operator Dore Mann) taking a hellish romp through the nightclubs and alleyways of the Lower East Side.
Simultaneously absorbing and alienating, this worthwhile investment of cinephiles’ time and energy earned Bronstein a spot among Filmmaker’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” when it came out (an honor to which he has lived up as the co-writer of such acclaimed titles as Good Time and Uncut Gems). It also inspired one of the most moving reviews you will ever read by the late great Roger Ebert, who swore that the film’s “only purpose is to do justice to Keith by showing him as he is. I will not forget him.”
Producer: Marc Raybin | Editor: Ronald Bronstein | Cinematographer: Sean Price Williams | Screenwriter: Ronald Bronstein
Cast: Dore Mann, Paul Grimstad, David Sandholm, Carmine Marino, Mary Bronstein