Review by Sean Boelman
Frankie, the newest film from acclaimed filmmaker Ira Sachs (Love is Strange), is a sprawling character drama exploring the complexities of human connection. Yet despite the extremely talented ensemble that brings the characters to life, the script is surprisingly stagnant and emotionless, leaving the movie feeling disappointingly empty.
The film follows three generations of a family as they gather for a vacation, at which point drama unfolds driven by their romantic feelings. While it isn’t inherently bad for a movie to be meandering and contemplative like this, Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias aren’t able to make the drama compelling enough to drive the whole film.
One of the main reasons why the movie falls flat is that the character development is lackluster, especially for a film that is so rooted in its characters. Since there are so many moving pieces in the movie, it becomes difficult to keep track of these constantly intertwining relationships, and at some point, audiences will simply stop caring.
That isn’t to say that characters will not feel an emotional connection to the characters at all — there are a few arcs that are legitimately sympathetic, such as Frankie’s struggle with her own mortality — but some of the other subplots feel whiny and annoying. Sachs obviously has a lot that he wants to peruse in these relationships, but there just isn’t enough time to address all of the different themes he introduces with sufficient depth.
With an ensemble piece like this, it is an unfortunate consequence that the stories end up getting sewn together in an unsatisfying way. Although the connections between the characters are evident, Sachs is unable to effectively tie the segments together on a thematic level, and as a result, the film often feels like it is going nowhere. As soon as the narrative begins to pick up some momentum, Sachs cuts away to another, less interesting subplot.
That said, this movie does serve as an excellent showcase for its cast. As the title would suggest, this is very much a starring vehicle for its lead actress who happens to be the phenomenally gifted Isabelle Huppert. She is surrounded by some great supporting actors including Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear, and Pascal Greggory, but it is Huppert’s subtlety that gives the film most of its success.
Additionally, the movie is quite beautiful on a visual level. Thanks to the pristine backdrop of Portugal’s coast, the compositions are undeniably striking to the eye, almost to a distracting extent. One would almost wonder whether this film was little more than an excuse for the cast and crew to visit this European destination.
A talented cast does help Frankie become more watchable, but the script is missing the soul to make this into the riveting drama it should have been. Viewers will likely feel extremely underwhelmed by the lack of substance in such a star-studded movie.
Frankie is now playing in theaters.