In “Uncle Frank,” Writer-director Alan Ball (“True Blood”) combines many overworked genres – a coming-of-age picture, road-trip odyssey, an angry family-reunion film – and clarity of mostly obvious disadvantages.
The film begins in 1969 with 14-year-old Betty in South Carolina – or rather, Beth (Sophia Lillis), when she asks her quiet but mysterious uncle, Frank (Paul Bettany), to call her her. Encourages use. Preferred Nickname. Frank is a professor at NYU, where Beth started college a few years later. But when she arrives uninvited at a party at Frank’s apartment, she meets Wally (Peter MacDissie), who is not previously Frank’s roommate, but as Frank’s decade-long romantic partner. Except for one brother, Frank’s family does not know he is gay.
So when the death of Frank’s father (Stephen Root) sends Frank and Beth south again, they can speak with a new freedom. And as they navigate the disjointed travel logistics that Ball has prepared (Wally, whom Frank insists on staying behind, improperly catches up with him in another car, just breaking Frank’s car In time for), Frank’s flashback to the youth begins with something strange. This shows why he lives around his relatives.
Ball has stated that “Uncle Frank” was inspired by elements of his family history, and some characterization (Frank is not perfect but struggles with alcoholism, for example) seems suitably layered. At other times (anything with tyrannical fathers), “Uncle Frank” leads overkill. But Bettany and McDisi have a wonderful synergy.
Rated R Hidden Injury. Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes. View on amazon.