Comedies sometimes pick a twisted premise and then play variations on the themes it suggests.
So goes Being Frank, a comedy about a son who discovers that his father is a bigamist. In comedy, almost everything is fair game, but in this case, the premise seems a little too twisted and the variations aren't funny enough to make up for any lapses of taste.
Jim Gaffigan portrays Frank, a father who mistreats his son, 17-year-old Philip (Logan Miller). An aspiring musician, Philip can't please his highly critical father.
Dad, who presides over the family ketchup factory, claims that he frequently must travel to Japan to take care of business. The catch: Dad never really visits Japan.
Instead, he spends time with his second family, another wife (Samantha Mathis), another son (Gage Polchlopek) and another daughter (Isabelle Phillips). Frank's first wife (Anna Gunn) suspects nothing. Same goes for Philip (at least initially) and his younger sister (an amusing Emerson Tate Alexander).
As it turns out, tyrannical Frank transforms into his polar opposite when he's with his second family; he becomes a fun father who can't heap enough praise on his football-playing son.
Working from a screenplay by Glen Lakin, director Miranda Bailey tries to wring laughs out the confusion that mounts when Philip discovers Frank's long-running ruse and begins hanging out with Dad's second family -- never, of course, disclosing his real identity.
Bailey, who sets the story in the 1990s, tries to make the movie more palatable by giving Frank an opportunity to explain how he got himself into this predicament in the first place. I guess we're supposed to think Frank's not the worst guy in the world. Some last-minute father/son bonding may also be part of the attempt to soften the movie's rough edges.
But bigamy and deceit don't have a ton of laugh potential, particularly when kids are involved and women are being exploited.
No faulting a game cast, but even talented actors can't make this creaky and marginally creepy farce hit enough of the right notes.