'Uncle Frank' Review With Casey
Uncle Frank was released November 25th through the Amazon Prime streaming service and offers a simple family drama that is traditionally structured but also emotionally poignant.
The film takes place mostly in 1973 when a college professor named Frank, played expertly by Paul Bettany (Avengers: Infinity War, 2018), takes a road trip with his 18-year-old niece traveling from New York City to rural South Carolina to attend the funeral of Frank's estranged father. The trip and funeral get tricky when Frank's boyfriend (played flamboyantly by Peter Macdissi, Virtuoso, 2015) unexpectedly arrives, causing Frank to confront the homosexuality he's kept hidden from his family.
Partly based on writer/director Alan Ball's life (the creator of TV shows Six Feet Under and True Blood) Uncle Frank explores the tenuous rift between adult gay relationships and the expected family values of Christian communities. This rift often damages gay men and women, and the road to reconciliation is not smooth as shown through the hopeful and heart-braking flashbacks of the protagonist. This film belongs to leading actor Paul Bettany whose tour-de-force performance shows an unforced personification of grief, anger, and sorrow hurting from emotional scars of the past. His steadily careful fragility protected behind a wall of determined control will inspire viewers to care for, root for, and sympathize with this man and his relationship (ultimately with his life).
Uncle Frank is not a new concept for a film. Nor is it the first film to address the intersection of gay identity and family relations/traditions. Other films with this theme include Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), The Wedding Banquet (1993), The Birdcage (1996), Latter Days (2003), Call Me By Your Name (2017), and Boy Erased (2018). But Uncle Frank shows such graceful and fearless performances from the 2 leading men, it feels new and distinct making it impossible to ignore.
Some of the concluding family scenes felt too hasty, as if the moments of resolution were harried patches of a quilt sewn quickly into a pattern that was already sufficient. But overall, Uncle Frank is a beautiful reminder that gay lives (much like families) will likely have heartache, but they are not destined for tragedy.