“Uncle Frank,” released in late 2020 and directed by Alan Ball, is the story of Frank, a gay literature professor (Paul Bettany) living in New York who returns home to the South for his father’s funeral. He is accompanied by his partner Wally (Peter Macdissi) and his 18-year-old niece Beth (Sophia Lillis) on this road trip across the country.
The story starts from 14-year-old Beth’s perspective in 1969 as she attends a family gathering at her home. It is there we are introduced to the boisterous personalities of her many family members, including her grandfather Daddy Mac (Steven Root): a stoic, crass old man who has a clear dislike for his son Frank. Frank is introduced to have a close relationship with Beth: he is a confidant to her and a more progressive, welcoming figure amongst the harsh attitudes of her old-fashioned parents.
Flash forward 4 years: Beth is now a freshman in college, attending the school at which her uncle teaches. Throughout these scenes, including some at her uncle’s party, we see just how close these family members are, and how Frank clearly is a role model to Beth. He gives her advice, encourages her to follow her passions, and even consoles her as she sits with her head in the toilet after a reckless night of drinking.
Beth is over at Frank and Wally’s apartment when they get the news of Daddy Mac’s passing. Frank struggles with his internal conflict, debating whether he should allow his partner to come with him- in fear that his identity may be exposed to his family. He decides not to bring Wally, but the man eventually catches up to them in secret.
Later, it is revealed that Daddy Mac has such a strong hatred for his own son simply because he is gay. Heart-wrenching scenes are played back from his teenage years of his father essentially telling him he will burn in hell and that he is a “sinner” after seeing him with another boy.
The scenes that follow are beautifully shot and I myself was almost brought to tears at the amazing performance of the actors during the more dramatic or solemn parts. Paul Bettany manages to capture the complex feelings of angst and confusion that a man might feel after keeping a secret from his own family for so long- and, when he is finally outed by his father’s will in the end, it only gets more immersive from there.
Critics believe that the ending- when Frank and his (mostly) homphobic family members all sit down happily and enjoy each other’s company like nothing had really happened- is perhaps too cheery and unrealistic. While I will say that these events may not occur exactly in real life, I think the way the film ends isn’t a complete reach- especially for something that’s meant to entertain and leave viewers satisfied. Sure, implying that Frank is supposed to just passively tolerate the subtle homophobia of his family in the end isn’t ideal, but I think the point of the ending is to say that, despite all the hatred he faced from his father, he is still able to finally be a part of his family in peace with those he loved.
If you’d like to watch this movie, you can find it on Amazon Prime Video. It is rated R due to content like smoking, drinking, swearing, sex (nothing graphic or extreme).