Childhood traumas stay with us for a long time. Sometimes forever. The scar inflicted by them impacts our personality. They make us violent, emotional, depressed and sometimes even worse. The protagonist of Uncle Frank (film), Frank Bledsoe suffers from one such emotional dis-balance from an event that happened in his teenage.
Uncle Frank (film) directed by Alan Ball is a drama film set in the 1970s that narrates the story of a gay man who visits his family and recollects his horrifying past in his hometown. The film is narrated by Frank’s niece, Beth Bledsoe for whom Uncle Frank is a charming individual who lives in Manhattan, but there is much more to the story, buried deep in his past.
The film begins with a Beth who finds herself an alien in her own dysfunctional family situated in Greenville, South Carolina. The only person Beth connects with is his Uncle Frank (a college professor in New York).
Beth says, “Nobody else in my family ever seemed interested in me. But Uncle Frank was different.” Beth, who herself is an avid reader, always has lots to converse with Frank.
In the starting scenes, when Beth is still 16, Frank visits the family to celebrate his father, Daddy Mac’s birthday. Beth narrates the story of Uncle Frank who is often ignored or despised by Daddy Mac. Frank tries his best to hide into the shadow and leave the house as soon as possible.
2 years later, when Beth comes to Manhattan to study, she casually visits Frank’s apartment, only to find out that he lives with another man and is gay. It doesn’t affect Beth, though, the sudden demise of Daddy Mac ignites the events of Frank’s past. Frank, who always told Beth, “you are gonna be the person you decide to be” has now to follow his own preaching and confront his family with his truth.
However, the path to truth isn’t so easy, and always bumpy. The story, thus, explores Frank’s own internal conflicts as well as the conflict of the society before he reaches his haven.
Mild Spoilers Ahead
A teenager’s mind is like soaking sand. It grasps love and terror equally. While love makes one compassionate, the latter creates an emotional dis-balance. Frank not only suffers from the loss of a lover in his teenage but also from spiteful father who thinks being gay is a sickness that corrupts one’s soul. For a feeble teenager’s mind, all the viciousness shelves his personality, as he becomes a shadow in the house. Paul Bettany has played those traits with an ace and the scenes where he emotionally breaks down are marvelously acted.
Traumas cause Addiction
Any substance addiction, whether alcohol or drugs, helps to lessen our neuro ability, thus stop the overthinking process. For Frank, alcohol becomes his escape and he drowns himself in that. Anytime, Frank’s past or his dad’s memories comes back to haunt him, Frank curtails it with alcohol. Paul Bettany’s performance for the same matches the standard of Matthew McConaughey from Dallas Buyer’s Club. Paul is equally brilliant.
The writers and the directors have created a link to Frank’s trauma. His addiction, his violent behaviour or even his compassionate nature, each of it is ruled by a single event that happened in his teenage. Thus, the root cause is clearly traceable and thus, the writing is vivid and clear.
After Notes on Uncle Frank (film)
Reading is an Exercise in Empathy
There are three particular scenes in Uncle Frank (film), where Beth talks about books. The one in the starting establishes Beth as the girl who is not attended in the family but wants to speak out. Thus, when a conversation about books starts, Beth can’t control her enthusiasm. With Uncle Frank too, Beth feels connected as he is a professor himself and probably a reader.
Point being, when Beth learns about Frank being homosexual, she isn’t much surprised and doesn’t look at Frank lowly. For a character like Beth, who is even the writer’s voice, she is much more empathetic than other characters. She has more acceptance than anyone else in the film. She might not have met many people in her little 18 years of life, but definitely read enough to understand that being different or flawed is totally acceptable. When Uncle Frank is rude to his boyfriend and becomes uncontrollable, it is Beth who reminds him saying, “you can’t be who you are unless nobody around you disagrees with you.”
Beth’s dialogue is just a reminder to Uncle Frank that he is different and he should accept it. He shouldn’t let people have control over him by pissing him off. When Beth faces a similar situation where one of his cousins tries to annoy her, she handles it charmingly.
Thus, Beth as the narrator, or like every storyteller, might be lonely in the real world, but she understands that she has a secret sanctuary where she belongs, “In Fiction.”
Uncle Frank (film) is a simple smooth ride filled with flavours of comedy and drama. The film produced by Amazon Studios crafted in an Indie space is high on emotions. It doesn’t involve any loud tragedy but the horrors of a human mind, that are even louder. Paul Bettany has done a marvelous job and his performance stays with you.
If you are looking for a short sweet flick to stream on a weekday, then do check out Uncle Frank (film). It is one of those slow dramas that never becomes monotonous and puts a little smile on your face in the end.
Uncle Frank (film) is streaming on Prime Video.
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