‘Uncle Frank’ serves indie cliches family style

Sophia Lillis, Paul Bettany are posing for a picture: (L-R) Sophia Lillis and Paul Bettany star in UNCLE FRANK Photo: Brownie Harris Courtesy of Amazon Studios

© Provided by Boston Herald
(L-R) Sophia Lillis and Paul Bettany star in UNCLE FRANK Photo: Brownie Harris Courtesy of Amazon Studios



Rated R. On Amazon.

Grade: C+

As “Uncle Frank,” a litany of indie film cliches, opens, you might think it’s another indie coming-of-age story. Guess again. It’s really an indie coming-out to your South Carolina Christian family movie. Beginning in 1969, when the film’s South Carolina born-and-raised narrator Betty Bledsoe (Sophia Lillis) is 14 years old, she is told by her “sophisticated” Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany), who is a literature professor at New York University  that she is at that point in life when she can choose who she wants to be. If she “aces her SATs,” he tells her, she can attend any college in the country, and four years later, newly anointed “Beth” Bledsoe leaves humid, leafy, conservative South Carolina to go to NYU.

You’d think this would be the start of a story about how Betty became Beth, loses her virginity and becomes a physicist or something, right? Well, no. What happens instead is that Beth discovers something that most of us assumed from the beginning, i.e., that 40-something singleton Uncle Frank is gay and (something we did not guess) that he has a live-in lover named Wally aka Walid (Lebanon-born Peter Macdissi), who is from Saudi Arabia, and that Wally — in addition to being Uncle Frank’s wife — is also Muslim. Wally also has a pet iguana he has named Barbara Stanwyck. In case the film’s second thematic approach doesn’t grab you, Frank gets a call from his hysterical mother, Mammaw (Margo Martindale), telling him that his father, Daddy Mac (Stephen Root), who constantly belittled him, is daaaay-yed.

a man and a woman sitting in a car: SOPHIA LILLIS, PAUL BETTANY and PETER MACDISSI star in UNCLE FRANK

© Provided by Boston Herald

This generates yet another film genre, the road trip movie, since Beth has promised her mother, Kitty (a wasted Judy Greer), never to step foot in one of those flying machines. On the way, Beth asks Frank a lot of questions about being gay, which he asks her to keep down, since we are in the 1973-era South. Frank also mentally relives the day his outraged father caught him in flagrante delecto with a boy from school. In the flashback, Daddy Mac informs young Frank that God will “cast him into the Lake of Fire” for his sins. Frank, Beth and the unwanted Wally arrive in Creekville just in time for the big Southern family funeral, complete with an irregular, but dramatically necessary reading of Daddy Mac’s will, which has a surprise footnote for the whole family to hear. On the whole, I’d rather be watching “Death at a Funeral,” again, instead.

Written and directed by Atlanta-born Alan Ball of “Six Feet Under” fame, “Uncle Frank” has plenty of histrionics and zero surprises. As if on cue, Frank, a recovered alcoholic, falls off the wagon. I expected them to use an actual wagon for

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‘Uncle Frank,’ on Amazon, presents a different sort of American beauty

By odd coincidence, two movies are debuting on streaming platforms the day before Thanksgiving that deal with the same exact log-line: a gay person returns to a small-town family that is still in the dark about his/her orientation. “Happiest Season,” on Hulu, plays the situation for light comedy with dark (and not all that successful) trimmings. “Uncle Frank,” on Amazon, goes for drama, complex characters, and meaty performances. It’s the better option by far, and not just because it reminds a viewer of how good and underrated an actor Paul Bettany is.

a man and a woman sitting in a car: Sophia Lillis, Paul Bettany, and Peter Macdissi in "Uncle Frank."

© Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Sophia Lillis, Paul Bettany, and Peter Macdissi in “Uncle Frank.”

Bettany plays the title character, Frank Bledsoe, a literature professor at New York University who’s happily living with longtime partner Wally (Peter Macdissi). The year is 1973, and Frank’s world is seen through the eyes of a beloved niece, Beth (Sophia Lillis), arriving from their rural South Carolina town for her freshman year at college. Beth is at first unworldly enough to be taken advantage of by an unscrupulous suitor (Colton Ryan) but sharp enough to adjust to the revelations about her favorite uncle, and she immediately bonds with Wally, an effusive Saudi Arabian bohemian with even more to lose than Frank if he were to return home.

Frank’s family is bad enough, as we’ve seen in a prologue featuring a brutal patriarch (Stephen Root), an enabling mother (Margo Martindale), and relatives who range from trash-talking (Steve Zahn) to empathetic but clueless (Judy Greer) to bug-house crazy (Lois Smith as “Aunt Butch”). When the patriarch drops dead 15 minutes into “Uncle Frank,” the film becomes a road trip in which Frank and Beth drive south to the funeral, Frank’s nerves fraying with each mile.

Lillis (Beverly Marsh in the most recent iteration of “It”) is very good at charting Beth’s stiffening spine as she moves away from and then back toward a close-minded clan, and Macdissi makes Wally a big-hearted, funny force of nature. But “Uncle Frank” belongs to Bettany, who has been one of the best things in many movies for over two decades now — including the “Avengers” series, in which he plays Vision — while still remaining slightly anonymous. (He could pass for Benedict Cumberbatch’s accountant brother.) Frank’s sobriety, in place for years it’s implied, starts to falter as they cross the Mason-Dixon Line and painful memories involving a long-ago love (Michael Perez) flash into the movie’s slipstream. The actor establishes a character utterly at home in the cosmopolitan life he has made for himself and then shows that character’s emotional and even physical unraveling as he gets closer to the heart of his personal darkness. It’s a vanity-free performance and extremely affecting.

“Uncle Frank” has been written and directed by Alan Ball, who created TV’s “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood” and wrote “American Beauty,” a best picture winner that, to put it gently, has not aged well. Ball’s first shot at directing a feature, “Towelhead” (2015), was an

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YouTuber niece of Illinois mayor criticizes uncle for attending wedding amid Covid-19 surge

The internet celebrity niece of an Illinois mayor criticized her uncle on Sunday for attending a family wedding in Florida.

Kristin Chirico, former BuzzFeed personality and co-host of YouTube’s “The Kitchen & Jorn Show,” said Naperville mayor Steve Chirico was “not sorry” for his actions, which were a “tremendous insult” to the community.

“He should be held accountable,” Chirico tweeted on Sunday, addressing organizers in Naperville. “Demand updates. You belong in this community, too. Your safety matters. YOU matter. I’m rooting for you.”

Chirico did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Her statement came after a widely circulated photo on social media showed Steve Chirico standing close together with his family at his daughter’s wedding — none of whom wore masks.

Steve Chirico confirmed to NBC News in an email that he traveled to Florida for his daughter’s outdoor wedding and reception, which had a total of 53 guests.

“My family and I all took COVID tests and tested negative prior to traveling to Florida this weekend for my daughter Jenna’s wedding,” he said in a statement. “Upon my return to Naperville, I will be quarantining and testing again.”

His niece wasn’t the only one to criticize the mayor.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker voiced his concerns at a daily coronavirus briefing on Monday, saying people were not following public health measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, NBC Chicago reported.

“I even saw a story about a mayor here in Illinois who flew to Florida for a wedding, didn’t wear a mask, and the wedding had more than 50 people and that’s the kind of thing — that’s precisely what we ask people not to do,” Pritzker said.

The controversy came as Covid-19 cases were on the rise in all 50 states. The mayor’s trip also followed a warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention telling Americans not to travel for the holidays.

As of Tuesday, DuPage County, where Naperville is located, reported more than 41,000 cases and 748 deaths since the pandemic began in March, according to the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 dashboard.

Chirico tweeted on Saturday that her uncle and his immediate family did not believe “they’ve done anything wrong.”

She added that she was initially hesitant to publicly speak out against her uncle, but “like… people are dying, Kim,” referencing a meme from “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

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