I met Fran Kranz once. I don’t say this to brag, but to say he seemed like a nice guy. The kind of guy you want good things for. Or at the very least better things than The Living. How is that after the crazy love Cabin in the Woods won, its cute and quirky comic relief failed to launch?
To Kranz’s credit, he offers a complex and whole-hearted performance in The Living, playing Teddy, a young husband who wakes up from a blackout drunken binge to discover he’s savagely beaten his wife Molly (Jocelin Donahue). She’s bruised and understandably furious. Her mother is too, but targets her rage at Molly’s mealy mouthed brother Gordon (Kenny Wormald). While Teddy tries desperately to redeem himself to his battered bride, Gordon decides being a man means seeking out a hitman named Harold (Chris Mulkey) to end his brother-in-law.
This premise slices the movie down the middle. Half of the scenes are between Teddy and Molly as they cautiously rebuild their busted relationship.The other half is Gordon shitting himself as Harold proves to be a merciless sadist who thinks it’s a hilarious prank to threaten to kneecap him. It should be suspenseful. Watching these wounded lovers heal (very quickly I might add), we’re meant to be anxious that every hour brings the homicidal Harold closer to their door. But neither section works because no one else in this ensemble possesses the screen presence or talent of Kranz.
Kranz is faced with a serious challenge. The first thing we learn about Teddy is that he pummeled his wife. So we’re not on his side. But he doesn’t remember it, and he’s truly horrified to see what he’s done, which makes him interesting if not sympathetic. Repentant Teddy grapples with remorse, tenderness and shame. He’s so gentle and respectful of Molly that it’s hard to imagine the unseen scene that came before the opening credits. How did he come to hit her? Could it happen again? These are the questions Kranz’s compelling performance raises.
But when it comes to constructing their fractured bond, Franz is left with all the heavy lifting as Donahue offers a one-note performance that’s 90% sulking and 10% bad effects makeup. Wormald, who failed to take off after fronting the 2011 Footloose reboot, is similarly simplistic as Gordon, offering little beyond cowering and mustache-having. Admittedly, Mulkey has his moments, being convincingly frightening. But again, it’s a lazy archetype, a madman with no depth or complexity, and so it wears thin long before The Living’s supposedly shocking conclusion.
On top of its failed dramatic notes, The Living looks a mess. Its lighting is harsh and haphazard. Its static cinematography could be described as serviceable at best. The script’s two-dimensional characters are given no help from dialogue that reads like the first draft of a high school drama student. I mean, who needs subtext or acting ability when characters can just scream their emotions at each other? The Living is amateurish on every level, making it downright shocking that it isn’t writer-director Jack Bryan’s first film. (It’s his second. You couldn’t pay me enough to bother with his first.)
Really the only reason to see this movie is Kranz, who manages to build a flawed but intriguing character in the midst of so much mediocre. And bonus: he’s pretty hunky when bearded and shirtless in very low-slung jeans. But this drama so lacks in emotional depth that the greatest emotion it evoked for me was sadness. Not for its characters, but for poor Kranz. He deserves better things than the post-2012 titles you’ve never heard of—and judging from The Living, probably for good reason.
Where’s Joss Whedon when you need him? Give the guy a bone, make Kranz some obscure supporting character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Come on, buddy.
Kristy Puchko take solace in that she probably won’t remember seeing this movie in a month.