On Friday nights, IndieWire After Dark takes a feature-length beat to honor fringe cinema in the streaming age.

First, the spoiler-free pitch for one editor’s midnight movie pick — something weird and wonderful from any age of film that deserves our memorializing.

Then, the spoiler-filled aftermath as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.

The Pitch: Switzerland-Obsessed Weirdo Commits Murder and Spreads His Wings in a Tragicomic Case of the Butterfly Effect

It’s almost the 1st; do you know where your landlord is?

Since before the days of cavemen, our pack-minded species has been forced to share resources to ensure its survival. The advent of the supermarket means we’re no longer made to squabble over food and water like bipedal extras in “The Lion King.” But around the world people of all cultures and kinds continue to clamor into the makeshift hives we call apartment buildings to maintain affordable shelter and, in the best cases, create community.

It may be passé to bring up these days, but if the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we need each other on a biological level. And director Jonas Åkerlund’s “Small Apartments” would have made the perfect midnight movie at the height of lockdown — if it hadn’t received so many bad reviews (including a “D” from IndieWire) that practically no one has seen it.

A 2012 SXSW premiere written by Chris Millis, it’s a meandering character study of roughly a half-dozen brilliantly named weirdos, centering on starring hero Franklin Franklin: an outcast alphorn aficionado, played by Matt Lucas, whose one dream in the wake of his brother Bernard’s (James Marsden) psychiatric commitment is to move to Switzerland.

“This is what Switzerland must be like,” Franklin whispers ever so gently, transfixed as his promiscuous teenage neighbor (Juno Temple) and her friend dance in their underwear before an open window. He watches through binoculars, a “Rear Window” homage in tighty whiteys and the picture of local Los Angeles loneliness.

Franklin’s apartment is flanked on one side by the curmudgeonly Mr. Allspice (the late James Caan, steely as ever), a retired painter who hates his fellow renter’s music and spends every frame looking like a man on the brink. On the other side lives stoner philosopher Tommy Balls (Johnny Knoxville), a full-time fuck-up who all things considered seems pretty happy waking, baking, knocking down his daily goals — “(1) Build gravity bong (2) Correctly use six new words in conversation” — and having Rebel Wilson for a one-scene girlfriend alongside Amanda Plummer as his overly anxious mom.

When the Marlton Building landlord Mr. Olivetti (an especially creepy Peter Stormare) mysteriously dies in Franklin’s apartment for reasons unknown, our protagonist straightforwardly announces, “I killed my landlord.” He’s delighting in it (wouldn’t you?), but even as he tells more and more of the neighbors about his crime, Franklin is further isolated when no one believes his deadpan confession. So, he goes about the business of dumping the body: a hilarious, almost Mr. Bean-like misadventure that soon ropes alcoholic fire investigator Burt Walnut (Billy Crystal, sensational as ever) into the Moxie-fueled madness. (Oh yeah, Franklin loves Moxie. Like really loves Moxie.)

Stepping into someone’s home can sometimes make their interior lives feel more real. Physical evidence of hobbies and hardships helps remind us that even when we turn away from other people and back to our own shit, their inner monologues and the events of their lives keep going.

In a time when we’re allowed to be physically together in public, but remain distanced by the trauma of the recent past, “Small Apartments” is a reminder to be present enough to connect with the people around us. I mean, yeah, fuck your landlord, I guess. But more than an anti-capitalism revenge fantasy, this under-appreciated oddity is a feel-good romp for strangers and strays about finding home wherever you horn. —AF

The Aftermath: Without His Toupee, He’d Just Feel Naked

Few naturally occurring phenomena fascinate me as much as what biologists refer to as “the grown man walking outside to get the paper in his underwear.” In my quarter century of existence, I have driven by countless men between the ages of 38 and 85 who have been propelled by the inexplicable desire to step outside in their undergarments because the ten seconds it would have taken to put on pants was apparently a massive deterrent to whatever chore they were performing. While I generally pride myself in my ability to find common ground with my fellow human beings, this is one of those rare thought processes that is so utterly foreign to me that I cannot begin to empathize with it. I’ve simply resigned myself to the fact that I need to let the aging process take its course and avoid subscribing to print journalism to avoid meeting that fate myself.

On the other end of the “Christian Zilko’s Passions” spectrum is my utter love of identifying men who wear toupees or dye their hair poorly. From a very young age, my mother taught me how to observe the signs that a man’s hair isn’t actually as jet-black as he’s leading us to believe. (I knew that failing to leave a little bit of grey hair at the temples was a dead giveaway before I graduated fifth grade.) The grooming faux pas of strange men have been a source of joy to me ever since.

All of which is an extremely long winded way to say that when “Small Apartments” opened with a bald Matt Lucas putting on a hideous red wig before stepping outside to get the mail in his underwear, I was hooked. I was so fucking hooked. It was immediately clear that Alison Foreman had stumbled onto the mother of all IndieWire After Dark movies and I was in for the best 96 minutes of my life.

My sense of humor has evolved to the point where there’s truly nothing I love more than simply marinating in rancid vibes. And “Small Apartments” delivered them in droves. I felt like I was watching a combination of “Bottle Rocket” and “Napoleon Dynamite” written by Sam Shepard, and the collective experience allowed me to sink into the cinematic equivalent of a communal hot tub at an Elks lodge that was recently shut down for a health code violation. I’ll forget the intricacies of this plot by next month, but I will never forget the depraved happiness that it made me feel to watch a convenience store clerk yell at Lucas while charging a woman the going rate for cigarettes (a two-second breast squeeze, of course).

Small details like Franklin’s dependence on Moxie (which hit very close to home for this ever-relapsing Diet Coke addict) and Tommy Balls’ insistence on defining “fucking” as a daily task were a constant delight. The murderer’s row of aging male actors who either chose to enter their sleaze era (well done, Billy Crystal) or simply remind us that they never left it (always a pleasure, James Caan) enchanted me the whole way through. As a matter of principle, I feel obligated to deliberately mix up the names of Sweden and Switzerland for the rest of my life.

I have personally never been driven by any major animosity towards my landlords — let he among us who hasn’t used the phrase “incompetent dunce” while venting with his roommate cast the first stone, but I harbor no malicious intent towards any of them. So much like Alison, my biggest takeaway from “Small Apartments” had less to do with death than the unquantifiable joy of being alive. Yesterday I woke up with no idea that this weird-ass movie existed, and tomorrow I’ll wake up with an arsenal of “Small Apartments” quotes with which to annoy everyone in my life. What could possibly be better? —CZ

Those brave enough to join in on the fun can stream “Small Apartments” on Starz via Amazon Prime Video. It is also available for rent on VOD platforms. IndieWire After Dark publishes midnight movie recommendations at 11:59 p.m. ET every Friday. Read more of our deranged suggestions…

  • ‘Creative Control’ Promises That Sexual Mediocrity Will Outlive the A.I. Revolution
  • Cuddly Rock Men, Absent Triangular Fathers, and Ringo Starr Are Here to Soothe Your Inner Child in ‘The Point’
  • ‘Donkey Skin’ Uses the Power of Song to Remind the World That Incest Is a Massive Bummer

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