Any film not made for mass audiences is always at risk of sliding into a montage of first world problems, such is the class barrier that remains in the film industry. Frankie is a great example of this pitfall, telling the story of a legendary European film star (Isabelle Huppert, who else?) as she assembles her family of lawyers, bankers, and luxury restaurant owners to help her face her impending mortality.
It’s hard to settle into the film even without these white-collar protagonists, with writer-director Ira Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias’ awkward, stagey dialogue struggling to introduce the large cast with any kind of grace or subtlety. Sachs’ static directorial style doesn’t help either, blocking the action in flat, wide two-shots and editing clunkily between setups with little imagination.
The cast is a real mixed bag, with a few wooden performances it would be rude to name. It may be sacrilege to suggest this, but even Huppert comes off badly – a fault that can largely be ascribed to her attempting the understandably difficult task of mostly performing in a second language.
Brendon Gleeson, Marisa Tomei, and Greg Kinnear are much better, bringing some real personality and naturalness to their roles. The latter pair share a standout scene which charts years of character development and emotional change in the space of mere minutes.
Despite this awful start, Frankie slowly wins you over with its languid, melancholy mood and fairytale tone. In the idyllic forests and beaches of Sintra, Portugal, time and place don’t seem to matter so much, creating a momentary crossroads in the life of every character.
Rui Poças’ photography is stunning (particularly the final shot) and does a lot to help sell Sachs’ uneven tone. This lightweight, tender family drama does just about enough to win you over by its heartfelt conclusion.
CAST: Isabelle Huppert, Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear, Sennia Nanua, Vinette Robinson
DIRECTOR: Ira Sachs
WRITERS: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
SYNOPSIS: 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.