Title: Uncle Frank
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Alan Ball
Starring: Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi
Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins
What It Is: It’s 1973, 18-year-old Beth (Lillis) visits her Uncle Frank (Bettany) in Manhattan. When Frank’s homophobic father passes suddenly, he makes the trip with Beth to attend the funeral in their small hometown Creekville, South Carolina, to find that his partner Walid (Macdissi) has invited himself against Frank’s wishes. The trio moves forward to be with the grieving family as Frank struggles with his past traumas attributed to his father.
What We Think: This was a pleasant stint in sentimentality, which is absolutely not a criticism. Semi-biographical films such as this have immediately clear messages and intentions as to why their film exists and tend to orbit around just that, most of the time lacking some dimension on behalf of the story. You would see a lot of films like these especially in the late 1990s-2000s when A Beautiful Mind and Patch Adams were all the rage. Green Book would be the most recent encounter of these I’ve seen previous to Uncle Frank, also cheesy and straightforward, namely entertainment that has a focus on social issues in order to make widespread audiences have an easier time empathizing with the characters on the basis of there being something wrong with society. Personally, I haven’t much against them the older I get because, in spite of their lack of depth, I can still see the impact they may have on the margins of the population who still don’t understand how to humanize people different from themselves.
As for Uncle Frank, this was a pretty middling, non-offensive stake in LGBTQ+ and minority representation. The variety in characters constantly acting as foils to each other felt fitting, the cast overall fantastic as its leads and supporting players create a web in which they are navigating awkwardly and curiously the topic of their beloved family member’s sexuality in a time and place where it was illegal and even grounds for harm. Though it doesn’t really seem like it is very much based in reality due to the importance of drama over realistic representation, the film as a whole presents believable humanity through its writing. Personally, if you’ve seen as many movies in this genre and subject as I have, you may not be shaken either. I thought the first act was solid and led the rest of the film under its potential, but progressed as you would think a movie of its type would as there becomes less room for the development of its characters and conversation rather than one stake after another for the sake of fitting a pointed story like this into the Hollywood formula. Really the only arcs I spotted that indicated the real change was one from the only character who had no idea Frank was gay in the first place, but rather than seeing or hearing from his thought process, his procession is short-lived and he seems to be just okay with it.
Our Grade: B-, While this film is passable and overall pleasant with a warm atmosphere, understood struggles when it comes to being gay in a largely homophobic America, and love and intelligence to the writing, the suspense of belief wasn’t quite all there for me for how exposition-dependent and even sugar-coated it was. For film buffs, it might not be as much of an impact piece, especially putting it in perspective that Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was a drama released in 1967 and was about rich aristocratic parents trying to get over their daughter’s interracial relationship. A different situation, but it still makes me question whether or not things fell into place a little too neatly for Frank who is both gay and in an interracial relationship visiting an extremely conservative part of the country–through again for the American audiences as a whole, I can still see it doing some good. Basically, I have to overrule my own objections, for now, I’ll be thinking of some greater good in this case. Overall I can recommend this, especially for those whom you may know who also seem to be morally stuck in 1973.