Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
Plot: In 1973, when Frank Bledsoe and his 18-year-old niece Beth take a road trip from Manhattan to Creekville, South Carolina, for the family patriarch’s funeral, they’re unexpectedly joined by Frank’s lover, Walid.
Review: Alan Ball is a director and producer who’s work I’ve always enjoyed without even realising it. With a diverse portfolio that’s mostly relegated to the small screen (True Blood/Banshee/Six Feet Under) he’s a well recognised you name in the industry, but not someone who has had a lot of movie credits. After Uncle Frank (which he also wrote) I hope that changes significantly.
The film is mostly constructed as your typical road trip where the characters’ personal journey of growth, change and discovery unfolds along the way. Uncle Frank, however, is elevated above others like it due to the beautiful visuals, wonderful use of its score and the truly stellar performance by Paul Bettany.
I didn’t know anything about this one going in and while I’ve seen this type of film a hundred times before (a road trip that leads to realisations and personal growth), it was so refreshing to watch the way this particular story unfolded.
Bettany takes what could’ve been a cheesy, predictable and over-used character type and adds so much depth, dimension and nuance to him, you’ll find it impossible not to sympathise with his pain. This is one of his absolute best performances, and in a fair world he would easily be nominated come awards season.
But he’s not the only actor who delivered.
Peter Macdissi (The Losers/Here and Now) was delightfully funny and endearing as his boyfriend Wally. He’s the kind of person anyone would want as a partner as he not only delivered on the laughs, but in those moments that made you reach for the tissues as well.
Sophie Lillis (It: Chapters 1&2/I Am Not Okay With This) is slowly coming into her own as a full-fledged actress. Here she subs in for the audience, as both Frank’s niece and narrator of the story. Her point of view of what Frank was going through, and the impact the things his family said and did had on him, was relatable and resonated with me. I think adults tend to forget they were once kids, and the things your parents and loved ones say to you can go a long way in affecting how we see the world and ourselves. Lillis as Beth was able to hold a mirror up to Frank, helping him understand how significant it is to “practise what you preach,” and I adored that about her.
If there’s anything negative I can say here, is I wish we had more character development for the family members to make them feel more fleshed out. The same can be said for Wally and Beth. Most everyone here revolves around Frank and are there to react to his story, more than have their own. The cynic in me would also point out, in the real world of 1973, a lot of what we see unfold (especially considering a lot of the trip takes place in Southern USA) would’ve probably played out very differently. Thankfully I was able to shut that part of myself off and enjoy this hopeful tale for what it was.
I could probably spend three more paragraphs deconstructing this story, straightforward as it was, and I know there are those who will say its ending was too saccharine or too unbelievable with its outcome. But for me, Uncle Frank hit all the right emotional beats at all the right moments. It is wickedly funny, heartfelt, deeply moving (again, it’s all about Paul Bettany’s nuanced performance) and with life messages that we can all relate to (forgiveness starts from within folks). I highly recommend checking this out before year’s end as it deserves recognition as one of the best films of 2020.
Sommer’s Score: 8 out of 10
For my review of boxing drama Jungleland you can click here.
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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