The Reel Review
Beth (Sophia Lillis) is a shy, bookish girl in 1970s rural South Carolina who idolizes her clever, considerate uncle (Paul Bettany) – who, years before, had fled to New York City to become a college literature professor. Shortly after she starts college in New York, she discovers that Uncle Frank is gay and has a boyfriend. When the patriarch of their family dies, they return home for his funeral, where Uncle Frank unpacks a lifetime of long-repressed memories.
Initially Uncle Frank looks destined to be a gay knockoff of the 2018 Best Picture Oscar winner Green Book, but once writer/director Alan Ball (True Blood, Six Feet Under) gets past the unrealistically silly, contrived way in which Wally joins them and gets to the family homestead, his tale of homophobia, guilt and family rejection unfolds. It is a deeply moving heartbreaker.
Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Avengers: Infinity War) deftly channels the deep-seated pain of Uncle Frank, who, along with Lillis (IT, Sharp Objects), Ball’s partner Peter Macdissi (Six Feet Under, Towelhead) as Frank’s boyfriend Wally, Stephen Root as homophobic Daddy Mac and Margo Martingale as Mamaw, helps offset an overdone, clichéd drunken binge that briefly distracts from the otherwise compelling third act. The big tearjerker finale will render dread, and then hope, in the heart of every gay person who has struggled with family acceptance as part of his or her coming out process.
• Writer/director Alan Ball says he loosely based his story on his late father (whom he says he suspected of being closeted), who had a close friend who tragically drowned during their youth.
• Sophia Lillis, on working with Paul Bettany: “I knew him from this kids movie called Inkheart, which I was obsessed with. He played this man who has a ferret as a pet, so I grew up calling him the ferret man. When I met him he told me I was literally the only other person that even remembered that film!”
• Uncle Frank was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina.