Uncle Frank movie review: A somewhat overly nice coming-of-age story
When 14-year-old small-town girl Beth Bledsoe comes of age, her uncle Frank (Paul Bettany) is forced to come out to his family, in this melodramatic-yet-moving drama
“Life itself is neither good nor evil; life is where good or evil find a place, depending on how you make it for them.” This quote from philosopher Michel de Montaigne showed up on my instagram feed right after I was done watching Uncle Frank. It was uncanny because Alan Ball (writer of American Beauty) seems to be driving the same message home with his latest movie, which is both a coming-of-age story and an overdone drama about Frank Bledsoe, a gay man who is forced to come out to his family. From the perspective of his niece, the film empathises not just with Frank but also with his conservative and rigid family. There is no good and evil in the film, only people trusting what they believe to be true.
Director: Alan Ball
Cast: Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi
In the summer of 1968, life changes for 14-year-old small-town girl, Beth Bledsoe after an intimate conversation with her uncle Frank, who rarely visits them. No one in her family is interested in Beth, including her father, who wouldn’t let her be a majorette (a dancer in school marching parades) because “no daughter of his would be dancing around half-naked in front of the whole town; she might get raped and would have deserved it.” Naturally, Beth adores uncle Frank, a sensible literature professor who tells her that she can choose to be whatever she wants. Four years later, Beth finds herself in New York in the same university where her uncle teaches. There, she learns about Frank’s sexuality and his long-time lover Wally (Peter Macdissi), a native of Saud Arabia. When Frank’s father, Daddy Mac dies, the trio ends up taking a road trip to his native town, where things turn ugly before the final redemption.
At one point in their journey, Wally tells Beth, “I’m not interested in nice. Nice always hides something. What’s hidden is what interests me.” But Uncle Frank is supremely nice to such an extent that it becomes cloying. Yes, the film does shows some streaks of ugliness like Daddy Mac and his religious hate towards homosexuality, but it feels like even he is let off the hook too easily. And what’s hidden inside Frank, like many things in the film, is too predictable. Almost all of the characters, except for the lead trio, do exactly what we expect them to do, which is very little. Even an incredible performer like Margo Martindale (Bojack Horseman, Sneaky Pete) gets just one long scene.
Yet, you can’t help but adore Uncle Frank for its deep yet practical take on things. One might have a problem with Frank for physically hurting Wally, or with Wally’s politically incorrect joke on Sri Lanka. But then again, this is not a film that preaches right and wrong. It is more about their coexistence. At any given point in time, there will be someone who hates Frank. And all Alan Ball has for them is the line Frank tells his religious aunt: “I know that this is the very best you’re capable of.”