The opening scene of the main character, Franklin Franklin, blowing an alphorn against an artificial Swiss background immediately sets the tone for this quirky comedy. Set in a dilapidated apartment block, hence its title Small Apartments, it plays host to a variety of colourful characters who call it home. Despite their proclivity towards the unusual, they all lead rather sad and lonely lives. However, this is primarily Franklin’s story and the dilemma he is faced with, namely: the dead landlord on his kitchen floor.
Bizarre scenarios are the order of the day and delivered by aptly-suited characters. The story is dark around the edges and herein lies the comedy. The often ridiculous situations are handled with amused disbelief, helped along by a witty script. The pace jogs along easily as it flits from character to character and situations are neatly woven together. A fascinating cast brings these strange characters to life, from James Caan’s reclusive artist and Dolph Lundgren’s smarmy, self-help “brain” author to Johnny Knoxville’s articulate stoner and his pernickety mother played by Amanda Plummer. Peter Stormare is as lecherous as practically every other character he has ever played; while Billy Crystal proves yet again that he is an actor who can handle comedy in whatever form it comes. The connections between several of the characters are surprisingly endearing, particularly between Franklin and his institutionalised brother Bernard, whom we only encounter through flashbacks, letters and tape recordings.
There are a few moments that, although amusing, feel as if they have been added merely to lengthen the running time and don’t fit into the grander scheme of the story. What starts out as a seemingly peculiar comedy turns into something a little deeper as various truths unravel. The film becomes a little bit too profound for it own good at the end; but altogether it is a bizarre, seedy fairytale, simultaneously sweet and bleak.