Film Review: Stallone, Frank That Is (dir by Derek Wayne Johnson)


Frank Stallone is a great musician and a talented guy and you should really spend some money to see him perform.

That would seem to be the main message of the new documentary, Stallone: Frank That Is. This documentary, which profiles the brother of Sylvester Stallone, was produced by Frank himself so we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that it’s full of people attesting to what a great entertainer Frank is. Billy Zane, Billy Dee Williams, Christopher McDonald, Joe Mantegna, Duff McKagen, Richie Sambora, and Frankie Avalon all pop up and assure the viewers that Frank is a talented musician. Arnold Schwarzenegger tells us that Frank deserves to be known as more than just Sylvester Stallone’s younger brother. Sylvester Stallone himself shows up, to tell stories about how he and Frank once lived in a condemned apartment building and how they smashed a hole in the wall so that their two apartments could become one big loft.

What’s interesting is that, despite the fact that the film often seems like it was largely made to provide Frank Stallone with some encouragement and an ego boost, it also convinces us that Frank does deserve to be known for being something more than Sylvester Stallone’s brother. There’s enough performance footage to show that Frank Stallone actually is a pretty decent singer. Though the film is honest about the quality of most of Frank’s filmwork, there’s still enough footage from the 1987 film Barfly to convince us that, when cast in the right role, Frank Stallone is capable of giving a memorable performance. When he’s interviewed on camera, Frank Stallone comes across as being likeable and a good raconteur. He’s someone who you might want to have dinner with, just so you can listen to his stories about being a struggling musician in New Jersey in the late 60s. (Be sure to ask him about the time that he and his band opened for Bruce Springsteen.) Frank is also honest about how much of his career his owes to his brother, even if he never comes across as if he’s really made peace with that fact.

In fact, Frank Stallone is actually pretty forthright when it comes to admitting that being permanently overshadowed by his older brother totally sucks. After spending several years struggling to make it as a musician, Frank wrote a song for Rocky. Sylvester admits that the main reason Frank was asked was because the budget was too tight to hire anyone who wasn’t a relative. Frank and his band appeared in Rocky, as well as the film’s sequels. He went on to record songs for several of Sylvester’s films, most famously for Staying Alive. And while working on Sylvester’s films made Frank known and even helped him achieve a brief stardom when one of his Saying Alive songs reached the top of the charts, Frank also knew that everyone assumed that he only got hired because he was Sylvester’s brother. When Frank would perform at clubs, he would be credited as being “Rocky’s brother, Frank Stallone.” Understandably, Frank was not happy about that. (Sylvester at one point says that Frank was bitter and that “Frank’s still bitter and that’s one reason why I love him, he’s consistent.”) The only people less happy about the situation than Frank were Frank’s bandmates who found themselves overshadowed by the guy who was best known for being overshadowed by his brother. Frank admits that he often struggled to deal with his odd claim to fame and, as a result, his alienated a lot of people around him.

For all of the celebrity testimonials and funny stories, there’s also wistful sadness that runs through this documentary. As positive and upbeat as Frank Stallone tries to present himself, there’s always a feeling that there’s a lot of regret right underneath the surface. Being Sylvester Stallone’s brother comes across as being both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it opened doors for Frank that probably would never have been opened, On the other hand, it also ensured that Frank is always going to struggle to get people to take him seriously as anything other than a famous sibling. (Even in this documentary, some of the most memorable moments come from Frank imitating Sylvester’s trademark deep voice.) Stallone: Frank, That Is does a good job of suggesting that Frank deserves to be known for more than just his family while also admitting that it probably won’t ever happen.

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