On paper, FRANKIE sounds very promising: a famous French actress is determined to reunite her whole family one last time before she dies, set in the beautiful Portuguese city of Sintra and bolstered by an impressive cast including the likes of Isabelle Huppert, Marisa Tomei and Brendan Gleeson. Unfortunately, for all its lush scenery and vibrant, popping aesthetics, Ira Sachs’ latest foray into the world of drama is disappointingly dull in almost every other regard.
Characters wander aimlessly through lavish, sun-drenched backdrops, chosen for their visual spectacle and nothing else. In fact, many scenes feel completely interchangeable in both setting and content – a series of isolated conversations bluntly stitched together into something vaguely resembling a narrative. It’s a shame, because the performances are nothing to be scoffed at. Huppert is subdued and stylish as Frankie, and the rest of the cast do a similarly admirable job turning the slow, fragmented script into something watchable. Marisa Tomei deserves special mention, imbuing the role of Frankie’s best friend, Irene, with a level of emotion that feels oddly absent for much of the film, as well as garnering the handful of laughs that are to be had.
“The seeds of an interesting character drama are all here, but Sachs refuses to let them grow, opting instead to scratch the surface of multiple storylines and be done with it.”
Nonetheless, the cast is large, and each character is given roughly the same amount of screen time, meaning that certain plot threads are left feeling shallow and, in a couple of cases, simply unfinished. Vinette Robinson plays Frankie’s step-daughter who, upon reaching Sintra, realises she no longer wants to be with her husband, but the conflict is cut short before it has even begun. A similar event occurs later on, in which Frankie’s son flings one of his mother’s eye-wateringly expensive bracelets into the undergrowth, only for it to never be mentioned again. The seeds of an interesting character drama are all here, but Sachs refuses to let them grow, opting instead to scratch the surface of multiple storylines and be done with it.
Thankfully, Sintra itself is stunning to behold, and cinematographer Rui Poças takes every opportunity to show it off. Each shot is like a postcard, framed by cloudy mountains and verdant green woodland stretching far into the distance. The whole film has a glossy sheen about it, making the numerous scenes of exposition enjoyable to look at if nothing else.
FRANKIE is aesthetically gorgeous, but let down by an underwhelming narrative and bland execution. There’s a story to be told here, but Ira Sachs seems reluctant to tell it.