Movie Review: Uncle Frank

Everyone has a favourite uncle. He’s the cool one; the one who tells you dirty jokes much to your parents’ chagrin and who also isn’t afraid to tell you what you need to hear when everyone else tells you what they want you to hear. For me, it was my Uncle Sid, my father’s oldest brother. Sid was also a good poker player – so good that when he would play against the father of the co-owner of the Roots Canada, he would take his winnings home in merchandise. Thanks to him, I had Roots shoes, Roots winter boots and Roots sweats. For a teenager in the 1970s, that was big, which made him even cooler in my mind!

Frank Bledsoe (Paul Bettany, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY; the AVENGERS franchise) is 14-year-old Betty’s (Sophia Lillis, the IT films) favourite uncle. In the film, UNCLE FRANK, the time is 1969 and Frank is a university professor in New York City, having moved away from his family in Creekville, South Carolina, years before. Though Frank still comes home from time to time, while he’s there he remains aloof from everyone except his niece. For Betty, Frank is like a breath of fresh air, encouraging the teenager to be whoever she wants to be. When Betty, who now goes by Beth, turns 18, she heads off to New York to enroll at the same school where her uncle teaches. One day she hears about a party Frank is having and she decides to crash it but Beth is in for a big surprise when she learns that Frank has a whole other life that he’s kept hidden from the family. With the death of Frank’s father (and Beth’s grandfather) back in Creekville, the pair decides to road trip it down for the funeral. Surprising them on the journey is Frank’s partner, Wally (Peter Macdissi, TV’s SIX FEET UNDER and TRUE BLOOD), who wants Frank to come out to his family. But conservative views about love and relationships abound in that part of South Carolina and the three have to be very careful to only let their shared secret out when the time is right.

Oscar®- and Emmy®-winning writer/producer/director Alan Ball’s (AMERICAN BEAUTY; TV’s SIX FEET UNDER and TRUE BLOOD) fourth feature film of his career once again looks at the human condition. Like all his characters we’ve seen over the years, both on film and on TV, Frank, Beth and Wally are all richly drawn to the point where we feel we know them and understand them early on. Bettany gives what may be his career-best performance here, showing Frank as someone who has learned to push his pain so far down that his family can’t even see it. The actor has said in interviews that he took his inspiration for the character from his own father’s experience. After divorcing his mother late in life, Bettany’s father lived with a man for more than 15 years. When the man died, Bettany’s father went back into the closet and lived out the remainder of his life in denial. Where the film falters, unfortunately, is that Ball seems to have forgotten the story’s time and place. There is very little chance that a family like Frank’s, living in rural 1973 South Carolina, would be accepting of his lifestyle. The film does spend some time on why Frank has remained apart from the other Bledsoes all these years (hint: it involves a whole lot more than just Wally) and this is the more interesting part of the film. Ball’s fairy tale ending, however, is not only unnecessary, it lessens the impact of Frank’s journey of self-healing. Nevertheless, UNCLE FRANK is still a touching story of self-acceptance and courage.

UNCLE FRANK is available now on Amazon Prime Video. Bettany may get an Oscar nomination for his performance here so check it out.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, January 8th, 8:30 am HK time!

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