Paul Bettany’s first road trip movie wisely deals with his character’s homosexuality.
In the new period drama “Uncle Frank,” there’s a certain amount of empathy thats resonates with the past and present. In the past, most people were against homosexuality and used hurtful slurs. That’s why most of them couldn’t come out of the closet, and that’s why those who did were abused physically and emotionally. But you already knew that. In the present, despite some communities still against it, most people have given the LBGT community a lot more love. I respect the community, as well, and in the film, it was easy for me to acknowledge the reality the main character has.
The movie, written and directed by Alan Ball (“American Beauty,” “True Blood,” “Six Feet Under”), has leading characters with sincere emotions and strengths and weaknesses-the stuff human characters deserve to have. Don’t expect it to have the full throttle homosexual character narrative structure like in “Moonlight” or the upbeat road trip movie genre like in “Green Book.” Expect in to move you for the right and wrong reasons.
The story is set in 1973.
Paul Bettany gives one of his best performances as a homosexual man named Frank, whose self-esteem is destroyed by his father’s (Stephen Root) cruel words. That’s why he refuses to tell the rest of his family about his interests, and that’s one of the reasons he moves from Creekvile, South Carolina to New York City. Another reason is that his love story with a local boy had to end on a tragic note. Through every highs and lows of the movie, he bites to the bone with his character, and never lets go.
It’s not just him we should single out, but also Sophia Lillis (whom I loved in “It”) continues to blossom into a fine young actress. She plays his niece Betty, who wonders why their family picks on him, despite his kind nature. He inspires her to make her own choices, and that’s why she changes her name to Beth, and eventually goes to a New York college. Eventually, during her stay, she discovers her uncle’s personal interests, and his secret Lebanese boyfriend Wally (Peter Macdissi, also the producer).
Then, he gets the call from his mother (Margo Martindale) that his father has unexpectedly passed away. He refuses to go to the funeral in SC, because of his father’s cruel words to him, but Wally convinces him to go for his mother’s sake. He has to drive Beth because her mother (Judy Greer) doesn’t want her to fly, and about his gay personality, she still loves him for who he is. He still has to keep it a secret from his family, and even Wally, who tags along, is aware of that.
The weakness of “Uncle Frank” is how Beth’s would-be love story could have ended on a stronger notion, and how Wally’s family side is underdeveloped. But the strength of the movie comes from the performances, particular Bettany, Lillis, and Macdissi, and the movie’s representation of homosexuals in a Southern community, which, in this case, takes place in SC. There are moments when the father slams Frank for his interests, saying he is a burden and will be going to Hell. Those comments are evil, and Frank has every right for hating him.
Another moment I’ve personally enjoyed is when Beth tells a mechanic that she’s not a piece of meat, and that he looks like an idiot for trying to hit on her. The way she handles the situation, and the look in her eyes continues to prove how natural Lillis is as an actress.
And I’ve never heard of Macdissi before, but I know he was in “The Losers” and “Three Kings.” He helps carry Bettany’s emotional weight, when he criticizes him for his drinking and when he wants him to be a better person. He loves him, and he returns his love for him, while trying to keep their romance a secret from their families. This is how things were back then, and how things are in various generations, so we can sympathize their drama.
“Uncle Frank” delivers the goods.
Coming to Amazon Prime This Wednesday