Unhappy Families: Our Review of ‘Frankie’ (2019) on Mubi

Posted in Movies, Mubi, What's Streaming? by - March 30, 2023
Unhappy Families: Our Review of ‘Frankie’ (2019) on Mubi

There’s a mix within the contemporaneous criticism of Ira Sachs’ Frankie. But the nuanced or positive ones pitch it as an American version of a Rohmer movie. The difference between Rohmer and this though is that the former’s work feel like hangout movie. Meanwhile, there’s more of a narrative drive here. This drive, which seems absent during first viewings, becomes more apparent in subsequent viewings. Anyway, the titular character (Isabelle Huppert), a French movie star, finds out a secret from her second husband Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson). It’s that her makeup artist best friend Ilene (Marisa Tomei), brought her boyfriend Gary (Greg Kinnear) with her. This doesn’t ruin her vacation in Portugal, although at this point it’s miraculous that she plans things.

The reason why it seems strange that Frankie plans things is because God, or whatever, makes plans for her. One of the ‘plans’ life have for her is a disease that may eventually kill her. Frankie, then, is 100 minutes of people addressing the elephant in the room. Jimmy and Frankie’s first husband (Pascal Greggory) can’t imagine what his life is without her even if they don’t make themselves happy during their marriage. The movie answers the typical if not obvious question of how these characters react in a relatively alien space. Some characters, like Frankie, can’t enjoy themselves fully for obvious reasons. Frankie’s stepdaughter (Vinette Ribinson) has her own reasons for being unhappy as well.

The Rohmeresque comparison makes sense with Frankie‘s pace, which I may get to later, but one of the things that make that comparison just as valid is its, for lack of better terms, selective beauty. Perhaps it’s my colonialist thinking talking, but it’s not hard to make Europe beautiful. The beach where Frankie’s step-granddaughter Maya (Sennia Nanua) escapes to is beautiful, a place where she finds a boy to hang with. We can say the same about the forest where Frankie and Ilene look for a diamond and gold bracelet that her son Paul (Jeremie Renier) throws into the woods. In contrast, there are some ugly shots in the movie which feels real.

Sachs, as directors do, try to pull references while making something new. Trying something new, however, doe shave some pitfalls. The movie feels inert especially during its first act, where it needs to sell viewers instead of turning them away. This inert quality seeps in to some of the performances. The language barrier excuse may work for some of the actors but there’s a stilted quality in Huppert here, which is disappointing because she can otherwise act in her two major languages. There’s also a revelation in the third act that doesn’t add anything to the film. Despite these flaws though, it’s nice to watch a movie take its time to reveal their characters’ spirits.

Watch Frankie on Mubi.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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