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Uncle Frank, Being Gay In the 1970s

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Uncle Frank, Being Gay In the 1970s 4

Uncle Frank(Amazon Prime Video)

Starring Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi

Directed by Alan Ball

Rating: *** ½

I can tell you  that Uncle Frank is  a road  movie  about   a middleaged American  man in the  early 1970s, his  18-year  old niece and  his  life partner travelling by road to attend Frank’s father’s funeral.

 But what if I  tell you   Uncle Frank’s life partner is  a man? And this is  the super-conservative era when homosexuality was  still swept  under the carpet. Frank  had many run-ins with his homophobic  father (Stephen Root) when  Dad caught Ideal Son  in bed with Best Friend.The memories  of father’s  disgusted  repudiation  of his  son’s sexuality  haunt Frank as he  drives with the two people closest to him.

Uncle Frank builds on the theme  of  duty and desire with an elegance fortitude and  confidence that  are indicative of a   master at  work. Nothing that  director Alan Ball has done in the past, certainly not his shaky 2007 feature  film Towelhead,has prepared us  for this,clearly his creative awakening as  much  as  the film is about Beth’s awakening of another  kind.

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Though the  plot  is filled with  judgemental characters, and Frank’s family is unabashed in  its prejudices,  the  film itself  steers  adroitly  clear  of judging either the  hero for his homosexuality or  his family for their reservations.  To each his own, seems a  good enough description  of  the   characters’  sedate  morality,until of course it all comes to a boil  in a climax that brings  the venomous  prejudices  out in the open. The veneer  of  sophistication falls off.We are face-to-face with a raging intolerance.

 Among its many virtues(for one Turkish cinematographer  Khalid Mohatseb’s exquisite  lensing that  brings  nostalgia and immediacy into  simultaneous  play, all alas lost on  the home medium)  are the three principal players. Paul Bettany’s Frank, Sophia Lillis’s Beth , Peter Macdissi’s Wally are so in-character I  wondered which came  the first, the characters or  the casting. Watch out for  Margo Martindale as Frank’s mother.She is  way too accepting of  her son’s lover in the end. But  the actress  makes up for her character’s  shortcomings by being constantly convincing. 

Uncle Frank is a delightful film. Though  mired in mores  and morality it  never sinks into  a depressing introspection.  It is not  a ‘queer’ film although its protagonist  likes men. Sexual  preference is secondary.The choices in life are shown here to be far  beyond the bed.

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