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9/18/07

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Frank & Cindy the namesakes of the film, are living the very definition of a love/hate relationship; emphasis on the hate. But something keeps them together. When they're not yelling at each other about how much they loath one another, you can see there is some genuine affection. It's hidden somewhere deep down beneath the fighting, the accusations, the lying, and the name-calling. It wasn't a model relationship for a child to grow-up under.

Where most kids would become messed up themselves or at least have the good sense to put that part of their life behind them; filmmaker G.J. Echternkamp documents his mother and step-father's life to share with the world. "Convinced that my parents are a cinematic goldmine, I plan to film them for about a year." It is an extremely bold move, an odd human case study; but he's right, and he strikes gold with this homemade documentary. His parents are consistently entertaining and thought provoking in their dysfunction.


Early in life Frank Garcia had a brief flirtation with fame, while still a teenager he played bass in the 80's band OXO, that had a Top 40 hit with Whirly Girl They opened for Hall and Oats and made appearances on shows like American Bandstand. It was his brief moment in the sun, and like most one-hit-wonders, they were quickly forgotten.


On the tail end of his stint as a minor celebrity, he met Cynthia Brown, and despite her being twenty years his senior, the two quickly married. "I thought I'd married a rock star," Cindy confesses to her son's camera. She figured she was getting a free ride on the fame express, but after reality crashed down, she ended up supporting her husband's failing musical aspirations for the next two decades. She worked as a receptionist, while Frank got drunk and played around in his home studio, creating music nobody would ever hear.


Frank & Cindy starts out as a caricature. The hilariously over-the-top 80's clips of OXO is the film's introduction to Frank. After that he's painted by Cindy as a burnt-out, fat-buffoon with no motivation to make something of himself. Cindy is portrayed as a pathetic-liar with big dreams and no real plans on how to get there; she's constantly talking about getting her teeth fixed so she'll be able to get a job in Hollywood, it's easy to see how deluded she is. They're both middle-age-adults, past their prime, but stuck in adolescence, both users, using each other as an excuse to go nowhere.


G.J. sets his parents up as these ugly beings, we're repulsed, yet so fascinated that we can't look away. Through the course of the film, we learn to love these two. Despite all their faults, and there are many, deep down they are good people. They want the best for their son, have made sacrifices and tried hard to give him a good life. Through a combination of bad choices and bad luck they've come to where they are. Most people have big dreams, and when you take the wrong path it can sometimes lead to catastrophes that take a lifetime to recover from. They want to be better people, but life has beaten them down and they no longer have the drive to change. It's easy to put yourself in their shoes.


With relaxed filming techniques, where you're put right in the middle of everything, sometimes haphazardly; edited together with simple jump-cuts, that never beg for attention, just small slices of video-taped memory; makes it feels like you're living right there with them. It seems easy, but a lot of hard work and attention to detail went into creating this wonderful little documentary.


Entering his 30's, still living at home, and struggling with his own dreams of becoming a filmmaker, G.J. may have seen Frank and Cindy as a somewhat easy undertaking, something he could use to kick-start his career; which he hints at. But it must have been cathartic as well, to step back and see his family from another angle. He's taken the tough part of his life and turned it into art. Dysfunctional as they are, the film is a love letter to his parents.


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