Ira Sachs’ (Love Is Strange and Little Men) latest project, Frankie, is a playfully self-aware look at the film industry that also delves into themes of family and loss. With Portugal as its beautiful back drop, Sachs brings together an impressive ensemble cast that meld well with each other and yet still get to breath on their own. While it doesn’t feel fully complete by the end, it’s still a sweet and at times meaningful look at family and how powerful that bond is.
Isabelle Huppert is the titular Frankie, an actress whose cancer has come back with a vengeance, giving her less than a year to live. At her behest, her family joins her on a vacation to Sintra, Portugal, a city she has grown to love over the years. The film follows one day of her family vacation and there’s quite a lot of ground to cover in terms of characters and their individual dramas, and that’s one thing that Frankie quite excels at. It seamlessly jumps from character to character, feeding you bits of information without feeling like you’re being beaten over the head with exposition. Dialogue heavy scenes between characters aren’t heavily edited, allowing for their interactions to feel natural. The film itself is put together quite skillfully, solidifying Ira Sachs as an expert at his craft.
Isabelle Huppert as Frankie lifts the film substantially. Naturally subtle and extremely captivating to watch, Huppert conveys her emotions without fanfare and works well with her fellow co-stars, most notably Brendan Gleeson and Marisa Tomei. The scenes between Huppert and Tomei are a significant highlight, the two of them easily making you believe they’ve been good friends for years. Tomei plays Ilene, a Hollywood hairstylist who’s currently working on the latest Star Wars movie who met Frankie years earlier when they were working on a film together. Their friendship is very sweet and it’s interesting to see how Ilene interacts with the rest of Frankie’s family. Gleeson plays Frankie’s current husband, Jimmy, who hasn’t been taking her terminal diagnosis well. It’s refreshing to see Gleeson play a thoughtful and at times soft spoken man who is so devoted to the person he loves. His scenes with Isabelle are quite tender and quietly heartbreaking.
Despite the great cast and beautiful locale, Frankie feels a bit hollow at times, especially towards the end. It doesn’t go too over the top in trying to make the audience feel bad for people who are extremely well off, but it still fails to ultimately convey a sort of significant meaning. While there’s nothing wrong with slice of life films, there needs to be something there to make it stand apart from the rest. Otherwise, it will just get lost among the countless other films that are trying to do the same thing. Frankie’s storyline is fleshed out pretty well, but there are a few subplots involving Frankie and Jimmy’s children that seem to be leading to something a bit more concrete and compelling than what we actually get.
All in all, Frankie has its charms and is certainly beautiful to look at. Sachs doesn’t take filming on location for granted and fills his movie with as many beautiful shots of Portugal as he can. While Frankie is ultimately about a woman coming to terms with her mortality, it could have benefited from being more focused on her instead of spending so much time on other storylines that don’t add too much to the film overall.
Frankie will be released in UK cinemas on May 28th.