By Amy R. Handler | April 25, 2014

Sometimes it takes a very long time to figure out that everything you’ve been searching for has always been within your grasp. So now what do you do?

Frankie Frain’s Having Fun Up There tells the story of a 30-something, floundering rocker, whose cynical front and loser-ways camouflage his fear of growing old with nothing to show for his life. The man in question is Mark Kessel (Jon Ryan), a musician who showed potential a long time ago, but never went that extra mile to secure success.

Kessel’s life is as sloppy and downtrodden as it gets. He lives with several roommates in a dorm-style apartment somewhere in Massachusetts, and works at a coffee shop on the down side of town. His younger boss (Michael Labreque-Jessen), a graduate student working toward his MBA, is one of those aggravating, go-getter-types who constantly flaunts his life and position, and baits the musician mercilessly. Not surprisingly, Kessel erupts, gets himself fired, and drowns his sorrows in bottles of booze.

Lost and adrift, Kessel clings to his musical intentions, and belongs to a band. Unfortunately, the other members are so lazy and disjointed they can’t even schedule their next rehearsal date, let alone come up with decent music. Naturally, gig-offerings are slim-to-nothing, and when they do materialize, the band is poorly paid, and generally booed from the premises. And just when things couldn’t get much worse, not one, but two women (Maria Natapov and Hana Carpenter) enter Kessel’s world and attempt to change his life.

Having Fun Up There is one of those strange and compelling flicks that you’re pretty sure is going to be bad, will want to leave midway but can’t, and then are shocked to discover is really pretty good. The plot is nothing new: man beaten down by life, must decide if he’ll keep up the status quo or try to do something else. Still, the simple, character-driven, storyline is a strong one, with a universal pull, made all the more powerful by its subtle ambiguities.

This opens the film to various interpretations, something I always appreciate. Unfortunately, the overall acting could be better in terms of believability (with the exception of Michael Labreque-Jessen, who personifies the very essence of a disgusting boss). For example, how can people drink long and hard and still remain exceptionally astute and articulate? Seriously, wouldn’t you slur just a little bit? Also, I love very real dialogue, but the constant swearing by each and every character eventually becomes annoying. In spite of these definite flaws, Having Fun Up There manages to hold interest in a very big way, due to the dynamic writing duo (director Frankie Frain and co-writer Geoff Tarulli), and the film’s refreshingly mundane qualities.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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