For anyone who’s ever rued the lack of febrile, singular movies in an indie scene dominated by timid themes and reticent filmmaking, times may be changing. Azazel Jacobs’ painful, acute, so-darkly-funny-you-can’t-breathe psychological study, “Mama’s Man,” is due this fall, and sometimes film projectionist Ronald Brownstein’s shot-on-16mm “Frownland” is up to bat now. My mind’s clouded a bit after reading David Carr’s “The Night of the Gun,” in which a manipulative, abusive crack-addict loser works his way day by day to sobriety and a column in the New York Times. Brownstein’s gritty, grimy study of a manipulative, abusive loser named Keith Sontag (Dore Mann) is a collection of notes on crap, an unstinting look at a sweaty, fumbling, inarticulate, inexplicably troubled man in his 20s. Or, as his roommate calls him, “a burbling troll.” (And, as Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay aptly dubbed it: “sludgy miserablism.”) One rises, another falls: big city, small world. In the most squirmy aspect of the movie’s abrasive miseries is the underlying sense that Sontag is a New York everyman: that city could drive anyone into the basement, quivering wetly onto filthy couch cushions. Brownstein cites Mike Leigh as a key influence, but there’s less vaudeville here and more authentic self-loathing. It’s a singular achievement: this is a searing anecdote of rage, terror and tragedy that’s hard to tear your eyes away from. With Brownstein’s wife, Mary, as a troubled female friend of Keith’s. 106m. (Ray Pride)
“Frownland” opens Friday at Facets.