Uncle Frank is a movie where the performances rule. The film's occasional tendency to be too pat and overly melodramatic can easily be forgiven because the performances are so good.
It's the early part of the 1970s, and Frank Bledsoe (Paul Bettany) is a college literature professor and recovering alcoholic living in New York. He also happens to be gay. He is adored by his niece, Beth (Sophia Lillis), but not so much by his conservative family in South Carolina. When his father (Stephen Root) dies, Frank and Beth have to take a road trip back home for the funeral, where Frank will have to face his painful past.
As mentioned, the film has a few melodramatic moments, but it never tips over into ridiculousness. Writer/director Alan Ball (screenwriter of American Beauty and creator of Six Feet Under and True Blood) has created a very affecting movie here.
Frank's partner, Wally (Peter Macdissi), is the comic relief, but he is more than a wacky gay caricature, so audiences in Middle America can digest the film more easily. Macdissi's performance is good, and Ball has written scenes between Frank and Wally that are serious and adult.
Bettany's quiet performance is absolutely phenomenal. A scene late in the movie, when his character visits a grave, is utterly devastating. Thanks to Ball and Bettany, we completely understand this character right down to his very soul. And young Lillis once again proves that she is a real screen presence and a movie star in the making.
Uncle Frank is streaming on Amazon Prime.
*** Stars (Out of Four)
Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios