Directed by Ira Sachs.
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear, Marisa Tomei, Jérémie Renier, Pascal Greggory, Ariyon Bakare, Vinette Robinson, Carloto Cotta, Mikaela Lupu, and Sennia Nanua.
Three generations grappling with a life-changing experience during one day of a vacation in Sintra, Portugal, a historic town known for its dense gardens and fairy-tale villas and palaces.
There’s nothing inherently flawed about studying three different generations of fractured romance (or in the case of the youngest characters, blossoming love), but co-writer and director Ira Sachs’ latest feature Frankie about a terminally ill matriarch pulling her loved ones and closest friends together for one last destination vacation in Portugal before crossing to the other side, is overstuffed with personalities and subplots. Overstuffed is actually an understatement, especially factoring in the cast and relatively short 100-minute running time. The frustrating part is that all of these side stories initially show promise, but are unfortunately never given enough attention for depth to really glow.
Legendary French actress Isabelle Huppert (taking on another English-speaking role that works best whenever the script relies on her to convey emotions through body language rather than an awkward accent) is dying of cancer, but it still doesn’t roadblock her from taking situations around her into her own hands. And why not, considering one character explicitly says “people seldom tell Frankie no”. She’s trying to fix up her biological son Paul (Jérémie Renier) with her Hollywood hairstylist best friend Ilene played by an initially unrecognizable Marisa Tomei (given that the gorgeous woman is now well into her 50s yet seemingly doesn’t age). Frankie is also a revered actress, with the film itself dabbling in discussions of filmmaking and working on massive projects such as Star Wars, oddly never really going anywhere with the prospect. The problem being is that she is currently dating an aspiring filmmaker/cinematographer played by Greg Kinnear, dealing with relationship woes of her own.
Elsewhere, is a nonbiological daughter (Vinette Robinson) from her first husband that is contemplating purchasing a flat and divorcing her grouchy and manipulative husband, stressing out their daughter (Sennia Nanua) who spends the majority of the movie rebelling and talking down to Frankie, sightseeing a beautiful beach with a young boy. Brendan Gleeson also plays Frankie’s current husband (who has already started the grieving process and pretty much mopes around) in a somewhat nonexistent role that doesn’t capitalize in his presence until the final act. It’s also worth mentioning that the climax is unbearably lengthy, bordering on artistic self-indulgence that means nothing.
It goes without saying that quality talent is on-hand, the story just has nowhere intriguing to go. Matters are not helped by the unshakable feeling that Frankie is another movie about rich people dealing with rich problems, save for the cancer portion that doesn’t have much focus anyway. Well-acted as it may be, Frankie is surprisingly hollow, functioning as an excuse for a filmmaking crew to tour through Portugal, something that the film is aware of considering not only how aesthetically stunning sequences of characters simply walking through city streets and markets can be (the architecture on display is fabulous), but also how often the dialogue interactions stop in their tracks for someone to recite an ancient superstitious story about fountains capable of magical romantic powers.
It’s not hard to see what Frankie wants to accomplish; it’s a simple relationship study about the various complications that arise and how these individuals truly feel about one another. There’s just not enough going on in any singular story for any of it to resonate; at one point Paul gives a five-minute monologue that, according to him, is designed to help another character (as well as the viewers) to get a sense of how this family operates. It’s quite an emotionally strong speech, and proof that there are bits and pieces of the film that do generate a response. The film also just happens to be so ambitious with its family dynamic that there are not enough of those scenes. You can probably do without two or three characters and not lose anything integral to the overall narrative.
Frankie is a rare drama to be recommended for its visuals and setting more than anything else. The photography certainly doesn’t fail the experience, opening with a panned back shot from a hotel of Isabelle Huppert nakedly swimming inside of a public pool. The same goes for vistas from the beach and slow tracking shots of characters walking down long stretches of road and examining antiquated buildings. Ira Sachs is unsuccessful in making one care about this family, but it did make me put Portugal on a list of exquisite locales to visit.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com