There is nothing more disheartening, when a film initially exhibits gripping potential, only to lose its fizz at the midway point; Paul Bettany, Uncle Frank, is “intoxicating” as a gay Professor in New York’s avant garde milieu in the 1970’s; shunned by the mini-mentality of his family in South Carolina, his orientation found a harbor of acceptance, with the radical intelligentsia of a paramount city; being gay, even today, is viewed by many, as the gateway to perdition and damnation. Frank’s niece “Beth” (gentle, aplomb Sophia Lillis) his protégé, joins him, as a freshman, at NYU, where her naivety is sacrificed on a bed of reality; meeting Frank’s lover “Wally” (Peter Macdissi, is a compelling, refreshing addition to an accomplished cast) whose magnetism guarantees approval of an untoward lifestyle; she joins them on a “road trip” back to the south for Frank’s father’s funeral.
“Uncle Frank” slips into the sensational, sentimental, solipsistic mode: Frank’s alcoholism and self-centeredness, transcends his plight as a misunderstood mid-life, empathetic soul; predictability invades Wally’s reactions to Frank’s downward spiral, but Beth deftly when allowed, saves the scenario.
Director Alan Ball succeeds in eliciting genuine performances from actors, who desperately try to salvage a tale, reminiscent of so many, whose lives of torment, sometimes but rarely, have a fairytale ending.
TWO & ½ STARS!!