With his new movie “Frankie” (Sony Pictures Classics), you could say that acclaimed gay filmmaker Ira Sachs is taking a break from his New York movies, which include 2016’s “Little Men”, 2014’s “Love Is Strange” and 2012’s “Keep The Lights On”. That is until his miniseries adaptation of gay writer Tim Murphy’s amazing New York-set novel “Christodora” is completed.
Sach’s films of the 2010s have always felt like foreign films, and that’s not just because he’s had non-American actors (Thure Lindhardt in “Keep The Lights On”, Alfred Molina in “Love Is Strange” and Paulina Garcia in “Little Men”) in lead roles. There’s something about the moods he creates, along with co-screenwriter Mauricio Zacharias, that have an air of exotic sophistication.
This is also true of “Frankie”. Set in picturesque Sintra on the Portuguese Riviera, “Frankie” stars Oscar-nominated French actor Isabelle Huppert in the title role. Frankie is a beloved movie and TV star with a terminal cancer diagnosis, who has gathered family and friends for a farewell vacation. She is married to her second husband Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson), an Irishman. Frankie’s gay French ex-husband Michel (Pascal Greggory) is also present, as is their son Paul (Jérémie Renier). Jimmy’s daughter Sylvia (Vinette Robinson), her estranged husband Ian (Ariyon Bakare) and their adolescent daughter Maya (Sennia Nanua), are also among the invited guests. The only Americans in the group are movie set hairstylist Ilene (Marisa Tomei) and her boyfriend Gary (Greg Kinnear), a director of photography.
Frankie invited Ilene, under the impression that she is single, because she wanted to fix her up with Paul. Ilene and Gary were able to attend because they are working nearby on the new “Star Wars” movie. This maternal matchmaking is an example of the way that Frankie, unable to control her health situation, tries to control other aspects of her life. In another scene, Frankie attempts to give Paul a gold, diamond encrusted bracelet of hers, worth 40,000 Euros, so that he won’t have to pay estate taxes after she’s dead.
Not surprisingly, with all these characters, nothing goes as anyone planned. Bereft Jimmy is having difficulty dealing with Frankie’s situation. Ilene rejects Gary’s marriage proposal. Sylvia and Ian are having trouble with their marriage. Michel, a devout Catholic, tries to convince Frankie that “miracle water” at a nearby church will cure her, but she’s having one of it.
“Frankie” alternates between being too talky and long, dialogue-less stretches. The ending also feels somewhat incomplete as if Sachs and Zacharias were unsure of how to wrap it up. Nevertheless, Huppert, Tomei and Gleeson, all turn in exceptional performances. Additionally, the scenery is so beautiful that any shortcomings are immediately forgiven.