Directed by: #KennethRFrank
Written by: Kenneth R. Frank
Family Obligations indie film review
A heartwarming story about an emotionally stunted man learning to appreciate life in the face of a family tragedy, Family Obligations delivers realistic characters and dialogue with its well-written script. Kenneth R. Frank serves as both writer and director as he tells the story of Peter Steele who in the wake of his father’s death finds himself reconnecting with his estranged uncle Frank who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Peter also forms a friendship with Frank’s neighbour Melanie and her young daughter Mia. Through these repeated interactions, Peter who wants to find peace against the complicated relationship with his father begins to help both Frank and Melanie and slowly opens himself up emotionally.
The strength of the film is in the script itself which may fall victim to a few predictable story beats but never has its characters feel inauthentic. It's the realism in the characterisation and dialogue of Family Obligations that makes it a compelling viewing as Frank’s screenplay bring forth the struggle and frustrations of all the characters. Chris Mollica as Peter never comes across as unlikeable despite his abrasive personality, he’s a man trapped in a shell of his own making. Mollica finds this great balance of keeping the character repressed but allowing a sardonic wit to emerge. He may not nail every emotional scene but Mollica has a terrific comedic timing that adds some unexpected levity to the drama. Frank Failla is similar with his scenes as Uncle Frank having him reflect on the inevitability of his death while still having great dialogue displaying his stubborn attitude. Uncle Frank is essentially a mirror for what Peter could become if he continues to shut himself away from everyone. Mollica and Failla have great scenes together but there are still moments where they can feel like caricatures, it's Chandler Rosenthal who steals the film with a performance that elevates the believability of the film.
Rosenthal’s Melanie transcends the page and comes to life as the minuscule details in her dialogue speaks to a well-developed character history. Scenes between her and Mollica have them discuss their childhoods and dreams and has the film’s message of emotional connection really resonate. Melanie is a character who has no real stake in Frank or Peter’s life, she becomes involved out of place of compassion and that breaks through into Peter and has him begin to confront the issues within himself. Melanie, however, isn’t a character solely to support to Peter as the film never loses sight of the characters own agency.
The main issue with the film is the technical execution of the cinematography and the sound design which distracts the audiences from the emotional intimacy of the script and
performances. The majority of the film consists of shots with flat compositions, soft focus and a strange orange tint. The emotion of the story is not reflected in the visuals as watching
Family Obligations can feel alienating against its own messaging. Monologue scenes have the illusion broken by the jolted move of a camera or sudden changes in aperture during an establishing shot make the experience frustrating. Same issues apply with the sound as varying levels of quality and volume just distract from the immersion of the story.
Even with the technical issues, Kenneth R. Frank still delivers an emotionally satisfying journey for his characters. The lack of visual cohesion hurts the intended emotional effect but the strength of the script and the actors are enough to have the film still be a story worth watching.