Frankie (2019)

Directed by Ira Sachs

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There’s something very pleasant about Frankie.  It’s a relaxed story that takes place over the course of a single afternoon in a vacation town in Portugal, spread amongst a small ensemble of similarly relaxed but agitated individuals.  They discuss the pivot points or possible pivot points in their lives, things like divorce, jobs, moving to new cities and in Frankie’s case death.

Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) is the family matriarch, and we slowly learn that she doesn’t have too much time left.  She has gathered her family, including her ex-husband and even her favorite hair stylist, to simply co-exist for a little while.  There is no grand plan, though she does hope the hair stylist and her perpetually forlorn son by hit it off, but rather just a series of conversations about life and what it’s given us.

The whole story feels as though it could’ve been written in a couple days, not because it’s half-assed or flawed but just because it’s so simple, just a series of conversations that maybe Ira Sachs has had himself and decided to transcribe.  It’s true to life, sure it’s picturesque and the people photogenic, but the movie does away with contrived drama or even the melodrama that you do expect from the opening minutes of the film.

People have normal conversations, free of the conflict-driven dialogue in most movies.  When Frankie’s son Paul (Jérémie Renier) does finally meet her hair stylist, Ilene (Marisa Tomei), their conversation is deliberately awkward, even unsettling on Paul’s part.  Considering Ilene had arrived earlier that day with her boyfriend (Greg Kinnear) whose marriage proposal she turned down, it’s safe to expect that the path has been cleared for her and Paul to get together, even though nothing in reality would suggest a match.  And the film knows this.  So when they meet they talk as people would, especially people currently working through some stuff.  Paul says a little too much, Ilene is made uncomfortable, and just like that we move on.

So there is no real narrative momentum, and of course there isn’t meant to be.  The whole thing plays like a Richard Linklater film, specifically 2013’s Before Midnight though our connection to these characters is nowhere as deep as it is to Jesse and Celine. And that’s not only because there were two previous films with those two characters for us to get to know them but that there’s also something here that forces us to look at this ensemble cast from the outside.

Maybe it’s that they themselves are so far removed from the world as well as from their own lives.  We witness them in a picturesque bubble, and they mostly vent about lives that have gone mostly according to plan.  They are wealthy, privileged, and many of them happen to be artist (who complain about working on the latest Star Wars film).  Their concerns are certainly valid, but they are all of a particular stratosphere, problems that might not be had in a lower tax bracket.

But then again they are never there to be mocked, and they all express enough humanity to make us at least understand a little bit about them.

So it’s a pleasant little movie, sincere and humanistic.

Up Next: The King (2019), The Guard (2011), Goodfellas (1990)

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