Published Oct 10, 2019In his films, director and writer Ira Sachs is known to explore the complexities of relationships and how individuals and families connect. His latest drama, Frankie, sticks to those same themes, bringing together a star-studded cast that includes Isabelle Huppert, Brendan Gleeson and Marisa Tomei, amongst others, who spend a summer day together in Portugal. It's a generational family drama whose members and friends are brought together by the matriarch, Frankie (Huppert), on a bittersweet vacation full of reflections on time, love and loss.
Frankie, one of the most popular actors in France, is the glue that holds her family together. It's a relatable dynamic — a family that have been so carried away with their own lives that they have almost forgotten about one another. Frankie is determined to have a reunion that they won't forget, before she drops a bombshell that will change their lives forever.
It's a film rooted in grief of all kinds, with the film's characters dealing with it collectively, while the narrative also takes the time to look at each character individually and explores what kind of loss each is going through. Frankie is bittersweet, as the characters go through a range of emotions, and so does the audience. It's sorrowful, but Sachs crafts a script with humour, as well. There are many laughs to be had, but a lot of his dialogue misses the mark, with the audience feeling a bit of unease as a result.
The film's setting, Sintra, Portugal, is a character in its own way. Rui Poças's cinematography is picturesque and soothing, as the camera wanders through the town's cobbled streets lined with multi-coloured shops and homes, its gardens, beaches and lush forestry. The town is also used as a visual depiction of the story's three acts: the first takes place primarily on the ground floor at the hotel where the family is staying; the second, in the fairytale-esque gardens higher up near the castle overlooking the town; and lastly, at the mountaintop overlooking the horizon.
The story takes place in one day, and feels like it. While the exploration of each of the film's characters and their dynamic is solid, Frankie feels too short for the audience to appreciate the weight the narrative carries. The film ends with a lingering shot of the film's characters, a fitting end for a cast who really carried this film. There was no weak link, as they all bring something to their performance that is unlike the other. Of course, Huppert steals the show, as she always does, but Tomei also surprises with an affecting performance that reminds the audience that she's more than Aunt May from Spider-Man.
Frankie, while about a family, is also a portrait of a woman face to face with her own mortality, and how, no matter our stage of life, we desperately try to avoid the inevitable.
(Sony Pictures Classic)