Confronting his father’s death and family’s homophobia drives the lead character in Uncle Frank (Amazon Prime) to drink. Watching this cliché-filled film made me want to hit the bottle as well. The film starts with tons of potential and a strong lead in Paul Bettany as the titular Guncle, but takes easy and overused plot devices with ‘twists’ that are easier to identify than the sexuality of the stars on Queer Eye.
Uncle Frank (the movie) has no idea what it wants to be, so it tries to be everything. Is it a drama about being true to yourself? Maybe. Is it about confronting demons past and present? Possibly. Is it a buddy road trip? Unfortunately.
In a nutshell, Frank escaped his southern, small town existence to become a professor at NYU. He only goes home when he’s forced to, and spends most of his time dodging his family’s scorn (though most of them allegedly have no idea he’s gay) and bonding with is niece, Beth (Sophia Lillis). She gets accepted to NYU, finds out he’s gay, then hop in a car to drive home when his dad dies. His Saudi boyfriend decides to come along despite being asked not to. Awkwardness ensues even before they reach home and it’s all set against the backdrop of the late 60s/early 70s gay liberation and institutionalized homophobia.
This movie is at its best when we’re with its two best characters, Frank and Beth. Sadly, they’re surrounded by a cadre of one dimensional people who are just there to act out one predictable stereotype after another. There’s an aunt who’s most open minded contribution is that Frank will go to hell. A clueless brother. A somewhat supportive relative that tells him her hair stylist is gay too. And a mean father who even delivers hate from the grave. All of these people get us away from the core relationship of Beth and Frank, to the detriment of the movie.
And even their characters have their predictable flaws, like his renewed fight with alcohol. Growing up in the south in the mid 20th century would likely drive me to drink. But then again, I’ll drink to just about anything.
Have A Ball
The sad thing is, this comes to us from Alan Ball, who gave us True Blood and perhaps the greatest TV show of all time, Six Feet Under. Gay himself, I expected Ball to give us a more nuanced, heart-gripping story, exploring how the changing dynamics of America were reflected in Franks journey.
Instead all we get is very un-nuanced Oscar bait. With the all-star cast, Uncle Frank begs for nominations, doing everything but hit Academy members over the head with a statue. Beth’s Oscar monologue is delivered well but too short, and Margo Martindale tries for a Supporting Actress nod with her end of film moment.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
I recommend you skip this entirely. But if you do click on, hit your vape every time Frank smokes weed and a shot of Jack every time he drinks brown liquor. You’ll be numb to the clichés by the end of the movie.