Every once in a while, a brilliant film with a small, intimate tale backed up by a fantastic script and cast will make its way onto streaming, which is perhaps the only place even pre-pandemic such films could survive. Backed up by an amazing script and solid direction by writer-director Alan Ball, Amazon released one such film in “Uncle Frank” on Thanksgiving, which is appropriate as it is a nontraditional movie about family coming together after the death of a loved one.
The film’s story is mostly told through the perspective of Beth Bledsoe (Sophia Lillis), who leaves the small town of Creekville, South Carolina, to go to college in New York City in 1973, where her titular Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany) is a professor at. She always liked Uncle Frank, and he convinces her to pursue her dreams in NYC despite the fact that her family wants her to go to school close to home, and she always found it odd that her family was always rude to Frank despite the fact that he was never ill-mannered, inconsiderate or did anything that warranted him to be treated badly.
Uncle Frank’s secret quickly unravels during a NYC party in which Beth’s sort-of-boyfriend hits on Frank, which he quickly shuts down, as while he is gay, he makes it clear in no uncertain terms that he is not willing to risk his career on a minor. While a little forced and a overly reliant on coincidental circumstances, the party outs Frank early on, which allows Beth to ask questions and slowly get to know him, and it also sets up their journey for the rest of the movie, as via phone call Frank learns his father, Daddy Mac (Stephen Root) has died. Beth’s mother doesn’t want her taking a plane to the funeral, so she ends up going on a roadtrip with Uncle Frank.
Eventually, Frank’s partner, Wally (Peter Macdissi) join them, as he knows Frank will need support, and he hopes he can meet his family.
Frank, Beth and Wally are central to this movie, and the bonds they form on the road make the film. Frank is polite, insightful and cares deeply around those close to him, but is very stoic and careful. Wally serves a a foil to him, as he is very nurturing, fun and adventurous. Beth is our point-of-view character, but Lillis does a good enough job to keep up with Bettany and Macdissi’s magnetic personalities, and as a result, you end up feeling for Frank’s plight and the conflict he feels about mourning his dad, who found out he was gay as a teenager and threatened to kill him for it.
Throughout the film, there is real fear that Frank would be excommunicated from the family if he were outed, which ** spoilers start ** they find out, and in a shocking way that I will not spoil. And the film goes to a dark place, only to come back from it at the last minute, as instead of following the done-to-death route of killing off the main LGBTQ character to highlight how awful intolerance is, Frank is accepted by his family, who didn’t see it as much of a big deal in the first place. In fact, his mother (Margo Martindale) knew for years he was gay. ** spoilers end **
“Uncle Frank” is a heartwarming tale about accepting those you love for who they are, and about a family coming together, brought to life by a tight script and great character acting.
“Uncle Frank” gets an 8.5/10