Movie Review: ‘Uncle Frank’

Review by James Lindorf

From co-producing American Beauty to adapting and directing Towelhead to his latest feature film Uncle Frank Alan Ball has always been interested in exploring family dynamics and their relationship to sexual expression. In His latest film, it is 1973, and 18-year-old Beth Bledsoe (Sophia Lillis) has left her rural southern home to attend New York University where her beloved Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany) is a revered literature professor. Shortly after arriving on campus, Beth learns of Frank’s relationship with Walid “Wally” Nadeem (Peter Macdissi), which he has kept secret for years. After the sudden death of Frank’s father, the three head south so Frank can finally face a long-buried trauma that he has spent his entire adult life running from. Amazon Studios is bringing Uncle Frank to its Prime Video streaming service on November 25th.

It is hard to say what would have been in this pandemic ravaged year, but a year in desperate need of new quality content may have just found its champion. Uncle Frank is an emotional powerhouse about self-loathing, and the damage parents can do when they are unwilling to accept who their children are and who they love. Frank has been torturing himself since his father caught him with his first boyfriend when he was 16. Eventually turning to alcohol to escape the pain, but in a testament to his spirit, he moved to New York and flourished. Frank is the deep, fully realized character writers dream of creating.

When you talk to someone about Paul Bettany, it wouldn’t be shocking if the first thing they mention is the MCU. Over a decade of playing a disembodied A.I. and a robot in the world’s biggest films has made some people forget what a great actor he is. There is a moment at his father’s funeral that the anguish and anger are palpable. You are counting down the seconds waiting for him to explode, but as he has done for the last 30 years, Frank internalizes that pain and takes it out on himself.

Bettany was surrounded by a stellar cast that included Daddy Mac (Stephen Root), younger brother Mike (Steve Zahn), Mammaw Bledsoe (Margot Martindale), sister Neva (Jane McNeil), and Sister in law Kitty (Judy Greer). These cast members are present at the beginning and the end, but it is the other two that are Frank’s constant companions and admirers. Sophia Lillis is best known for playing Beverly in the I.T. remake movies, but that could change once this movie is widely available. Beth and Bev have a few things in common, but you won’t be thinking about Bev because Sophia disappears into the role and is distinctly Beth. Peter Macdissi is a frequent collaborator with Ball even though this is the first time I have seen him in anything, but it is easy to see why Ball keeps calling him back. He is an excellent mix of silly, passionate, with a little bit of sadness about having to leave his family or risk execution for being gay. An important message told through a bevy of beautiful performances make Uncle Frank my favorite movie of 2020 so far.

Rating: R for Drug Use, Sexual References and Language
Genre: Drama
Director: Alan Ball
Producer: Alan Ball, Bill Block, Michael Costigan, Stephanie Meurer, Jay Van Hoy
Writer: Alan Ball
Release Date (Streaming): Nov 25, 2020
Runtime: 1h 35m
Production Co: Your Face Goes Here Entertainment, Parts and Labor

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