Coming Out in the Deep South
“Uncle Frank” takes us on a heartbreaking journey full of ups and downs. It is a coming-of-age story that shows that even the people who we adore aren’t infallible and cannot run away from our past.
Uncle Frank’s (Paul Bettany) story is told from the perspective of his niece,Beth (Sophia Lillis). Both Paul and Frank are the outliers of their Southern family with Beth having aspirations beyond her family and her hometown while Frank already having moved on years before and became a college professor in New York City. This is what brought uncle and niece together. brought them together. Beth worshipped Frank, but there is more going on below the surface. Frank couldn’t run away from his past forever as we see when tragedy forced him to finally face it.
Bettany gives a brilliant performance as Frank. He is charming and also vulnerable. We feel the pain and then the sense of relief when it was lifted from his shoulders. Director Alan Ball’s film is the story ofa gay man struggling to come out to his family also feels and even though it is dated, it is still quite a film.
Set in the Deep South in 1969, Betsy Bledsoe lives a largely sheltered existence in Creekville. Her thoughtful Uncle Frank has moved to New York and he advises her to love her own desires. Frank doesn’t go home much because his family is God-fearing, do what your father says type and ruled over by the homophobic Daddy Mac (Stephen Root) and Frank is gay.
By 1973, Betsy who is now known as Beth goes to New York where she quickly learns that Uncle Frank has been less than honest about his domestic arrangements with her mother and father (Judy Greer and Steve Zahn) and is living with his long-term Saudi Arabian boyfriend Wally (Peter Macdissi). When there’s a death in the family, a road trip back home is imminent. Frank, is not happy about returning, especially when Wally decides to come along. Then Frank begins being be haunted by flashbacks to his childhood that are driving him to drink.
This is a period piece that exploits both closeted sexuality and alcoholism. “Uncle Frank,” unfortunately is filled with so many clichés that anything that is genuine is smothered. While the film is deeply frustrating, the cast makes it a fascinating watch.