Ira Sachs’ Frankie is a film of bourgeois comforts. Set in summery Sintra, it offers any number of picturesque views of the Portuguese town, which serves as the touristic backdrop of a wealthy family’s vacation. The pretext for the trip is provided by Isabelle Huppert’s eponymous matriarch, a renowned actress who unites her children and grandchildren with the knowledge of her terminal illness. Regarding the film’s production, though — the loose script, the ensemble cast, and enviable location shoot — a viewer might sense the same vacationer’s impulse that animates, say, some of Adam Sandler’s recent Netflix work. Indeed, despite its emotionally freighted story, Frankie seems to exist mainly to bring a group of talented actors together in a historic foreign locale — and the script doesn’t venture beyond those expectations.
Huppert’s sangfroid forms the emotional baseline of the remaining characters’ minor crises: Frankie’s current husband (Brendan Gleeson) and gay ex-husband (a posh Pascal Greggory) struggle to accept her final diagnosis; her lovelorn son (Jérémie Renier) prepares for a move to New York, while a personal friend (Marisa Tomei) of Frankie’s, a New York-based artist at the turning point of a long-term relationship, visits at her behest; her step-daughter (Vinette Robinson) contemplates finally leaving her partner, while her own daughter Maya is caught in the throes of first love. All the while, there’s a continual emphasis on the town’s pictorial scenery and transformative potential — which is appropriate, as this vividly colored film seems always on the brink of becoming something more. The closing composition echoes the ending of Éric Rohmer’s The Green Ray, a film that’s likewise centered on a search for rare beauty. But as a whole, Sachs doesn’t offer much more than pleasant platitudes. A film of bourgeois comforts can be a fine thing, as Olivier Assayas previously demonstrated with his incisive multi-generational family drama Summer Hours, recalled here by halting fiscal discussions of Frankie’s inheritance. Sachs’ latest, though, is merely complacent — the kind of film that tries for balanced, but ends up feeling just banal.
Published as part of October 2019’s Before We Vanish.