Starring: Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, Margo Martindale, Lois Smith, Stephen Root, and Colton Ryan.
Directed By: Alan Ball
Where I Watched It: Amazon
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
Description Provided By: The Media Access Group
narrated By: Adrienne Barbeau
The Plot: Told as a coming of age story from a young female’s perspective (Lillis), she talks about her opportunity to go to college at the same school where her beloved Uncle Frank (Law) teaches. For some reason she’s not quite sure of, Frank has never quite fit in with the family, especially her grandfather (Root), but as she comes to spend more time with her Uncle, she ends up meeting his “roommate” Wally (Macdissi) and suddenly she starts to understand, but also those things don’t change the way she sees her Uncle. However, when a death in the family prompts a road trip, these three take a journey home during a time period when being yourself in their position, often prompted entirely different reactions.
What Works: I really enjoyed this. i don’t know what took me so long to get to this film. i think I’ve always enjoyed Paul Bettany as an actor, though not enough for him to individually draw me to a film centered around him. I finally pulled this trigger, and I’m really glad I did. Alan Ball (who gave me life through True Blood) has crafted a lovely tale, that at times might present itself one way if that’s all you’re willing to see. If you think this film is just saccharine fluff, you’re missing out on all the nuance brought into the role by Bettany, whose titular character is in some form of constant struggle or suffering.
There never seems to be a moment where he just lets himself breathe and enjoy the moment, even in the quieter moments with Wally, in the house they have built for themselves, they are still keeping secrets and lying to others, and that level of shame seems to weigh on them and their relationship. Wally’s struggle comes from being from a country where they behead gays, and Frank’s comes from a traumatic past that is slowly revealed as the film progresses. He had a nasty father that tore him down, and it’s clearly taken a lot for him to get where he is now emotionally, and even that needs work.
Sophia Lillis is delightful in a role that is very much a storyteller. if she wasn’t present for these moments, we wouldn’t know about them, as the story is told from her reminiscent point of view. She has a few moments of her own, but despite being the obvious lead, and narrator, this film is very much about Frank.
Also, in addition to writing and directing a solid film, Ball’s elevated through his cast, where he’s assembled Zahn, Greer, Martindale, Smith, and Root all in small but impactful roles. Each of these actors are phenomenal at making the most of every second of screen time, and although they are not the focus of the film, having them there to elevate definitely pushes it up a notch.
What Doesn’t Work: Despite the desire for Ball to not smack you in the face with Frank’s secret, and even the narrator does a good job of highlighting Ball’s attempt at nuance, I guessed it outright, without having seen a trailer for the film, or knowing what it was about. I only knew the cast going in, and that critics generally liked it. I didn’t even know Ball was directing before I clicked on it.
I don’t know why it was that obvious, as this film could have been about anything. Fathers can be disapproving for many different reasons, but there was just something really early on in those first few moments with Frank where I picked up on why his father doesn’t like him. i could have been wrong. he could have been a draft dodger or something. But, he wasn’t. I don’t know how to fix that problem, but based on how the film was structured, I don’t think Ball’s intention was for you to pick up on it immediately, but rather discover it around the same time Lillis does, since it is her story.
My only other little thing is that Bettany’s Frank is thrown such constant strife that it would have been nice to see a moment of levity, true levity. Not just laughing at one joke before going back to his intense brooding and thought, but just a scene that got to show us the lively happy side of Frank, or possibly the side that Wally fell in love with. This film seems so committed to the idea that Frank’s struggle is so real that he cannot achieve anything else, and he’s barely holding on, that it forgets to show us the man he might be if he could just get this weight off of him.
The Blind Perspective: Adrienne Barbeau is quickly becoming one of those narrators I enjoy, and I believe she attaches herself to narration that isn’t awful. She wants to be associated with high quality narration, obviously, and uncle Frank delivered that. I didn’t have any problems. I also enjoyed that we had a female narrator for a film where our character doing the in film narration is also female. Nice touch.
Final Thoughts: I’m very late to the party, and i apologize. I loved this film, even with its tiny flaws, and I’m really glad I finally decided to click on it. Next time, I won’t hesitate so much on a Paul Bettany movie.
Final Grade: A-