Writer/director Ira Sachs has made some of the more consistently thoughtful and emotionally nuanced films in recent years (Married Life, Keep the Lights On, Love Is Strange, Little Men), which is why it’s so curious that his latest effort, Frankie, fails on so many levels. Co-written with Mauricio Zacharias, the film takes place across a single day in the stunning Portuguese resort town of Sintra, where a number of film people are in town either prepping to shoot something (some of them allegedly are working on a Star Wars film) while others are trying to have a family vacation and put work to the side. But everyone keeps bumping into each other in various combinations, so everyone feels compelled to unload their life’s troubles on each other. Trust me, it’s a real party.
This small world apparently revolves around famed actress Françoise Crémont (Isabelle Huppert), nicknamed Frankie, who is in Sintra with her husband Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson), with whom she is about to end things, while also revealing that she’s in the final stages of a cancer diagnosis. Her ungrateful grown son Paul (Jérémie Renier) is on hand to make life miserable for everyone, but so is Frankie’s best friend, makeup artist Ilene (Marisa Tomei), who’s in town for that Star Wars film, along with her boyfriend, Gary (Greg Kinnear), a DP looking to recruit Frankie to help start his directing debut. He doesn’t know she’s sick, and she doesn’t bother to tell him. Meanwhile Jimmy is spending most of his day not dealing with his failing marriage but rather wandering around the lovely countryside with Frankie’s ex-husband Michel (Pascal Greggory), who came out as gay right after he and Frankie separated.
Essentially, Frankie is a walk-and-talk drama that doesn’t so much create characters as it does bury us in their problems. The whole film reminded me of that new friend you’ve just met who spills their deepest, darkest secrets on you way too soon in the relationship, without really earning the right to do so. Every decision seems impulsive and nonsensical. Ilene decides she’s never really going to love Gary, certainly not enough to marry him, which he’s started talking about, so she casually suggests they stay friends, and his completely appropriate response is “Up yours; I’m leaving.” That’s about as deep as this movie gets.
It’s rare to catch Huppert being so extremely disengaged, but she spends most of the film looking bored with everyone around her. It’s disappointing to have a film set in such a beautiful location seem devoid of romance or any kind of passion, but Frankie finds a way to do just that. Friends are friends and lovers are lovers just because we’re told they are, not because they’ve proven it by any stretch. The film is made all the more a failure by having such a stellar cast and giving them the unenviable task of coasting through the paces of a subpar drama.
The film opens at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.
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