Uncle Frank Review – Four Stars! Truthful, Tour de Force Performances

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Uncle Frank, from Amazon Prime, presents a story of escaping the boundaries of the past only to be forced to reconcile the hidden secrets, the reconciliation of self, of mistakes, and moments long out of our control.

Written and Directed by Alan Ball Uncle Frank stars Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi, Judy Greer, Steve Zahn, Lois Smith, Colton Ryan, Cole Doman, Michael Perez, and Britt Rentschler, with Margo Martindale, and Stephen Root.

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Uncle Frank begins through the eyes of Beth, played by Sophia Lillis, as she moves from room to room, at the home of her grandparents, Mammaw, played by Margo Martindale and Daddy Mac, played by Stephen Root, where everyone has gathered to celebrate Daddy Mac's birthday.

Sitting talking with Uncle Frank, played by Paul Bettany, who has left the confines of the small South Carolina town for life as a professor at NYU in New York City, he explains she can be anything she wants to be, and the boundaries of this small town don't have to hold her unless she allows.

The film jumps four years in the future. It is 1973 and Betty, now Beth, is a freshman at NYU and is adjusting to the liberal life in Manhattan. Her parents Kitty, played by Judy Greer, and Mike, played by Steve Zahn, like good parents have driven her to Manhattan to begin this new chapter in her life.

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Having dinner with Uncle Frank we meet Charlotte, his friend, played by Britt Rentschler and having passed the family inspection, everyone is satisfied that Frank won't be single forever.

Soon Beth meets up with Bruce, and he finds out her Uncle is the Professor Bledsoe. Of course, with a way to impress her new beau Beth agrees to introduce him and they head over to Frank's office.

He is busy and as the two are leaving they overhear a colleague of his ask what time he should "arrive for tonight's party." Beth and Bruce decide to crash, and for Beth she doesn't have any reason to be concerned.

Arriving they meet Wally, played by Peter Macdissi, who immediately in his very genuine, over the top way, exclaims how much he has been looking forward to meeting her. As it is 1973, the party is a mix of West Village intellectualism meets the 1970s revolution. Beth, who may live in New York but has a mind-set still fresh from South Carolina is a bit like a fish out of water.

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Uncle Frank is out on the stairwell smoking pot when Bruce, Beth's beau steps out and proceeds to come on to him with an assuredness of someone never have been told "no" before. Before this scene is over, Bruce is told to leave and leave Beth alone and even though we knew Frank was gay, it's confirmed.

For her first West Village party other than getting sick from too much to drink she fares pretty-well. In the morning, the confusion of Wally still being at the apartment, "rent is expensive" and finally Frank just explains he is gay.

Then the phone rings.

This is where Uncle Frank begins its crescendo to this pinnacle that opens old wounds, brings to the surface that which was buried, and forces everyone to confront their own feelings and beliefs.

Incredible performances from the ensemble cast who tackle the issue of growing up gay in a one-stop-light, small southern town, where every movement is whispered about like the wind through the trees.

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The reading of the will scene produced performances that reach deep into the soul. I have never seen a reactionary scene like this, ever. The recognizable performers deliver thoughtful, shocking, real, and extremely authentic performances, so much so that they are troubling.

A gay-narrative film, Uncle Frank is a film worth seeing, more for the reactions of the "normal" straight folks, the God-fearing, bible reading, hell preaching good Christians, than the few minutes of screen time that feature the love affair of the two lead characters.

Truthful, emotional, bitter, jarring, tour de force performances. Screened at the AFI 2020 FILM Festival presented by Audi, Uncle Frank, exclusive to Amazon Prime, airs Thanksgiving, November 24, 2020. See it.

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