Since he won an Academy Award for writing American Beauty in 1999 openly gay writer/director/producer Alan Ball has been focusing on creating new work for television. His groundbreaking series such as Six Feet Under and True Blood swept up Golden Globes and also won Ball a very loyal following too.
Now he is back on the big screen with a autobiographical based story that he wrote directed and produced. Set in 1973, Uncle Frank is the tale of a closeted college professor (Paul Bettany) who is expected to go home to his conservative Southern family for the funeral of his father who he despised.
Since he left to live in New York many years ago, the only family member who has made any effort to keep in touch is his very naive 18 year old niece Beth (Sophia Lillis) who is now a student in the city. Now that she has discovered the secret of her Uncles sexuality and met his long term live-in boyfriend (Peter Macdissi), the pair become very close. In fact it is she who persuades him that he has no option than to go to the funeral, and she insists of accompanying him on the long drive home.
Frank refuses to allow Wally to join them to be his support and finally get to meet the family, but Wally decides to go anyway and follows then discreetly in another car.
In a series of flashbacks we learn why Frank and his father had fallen out big time, and why the incident had not only left an indelible mark on Frank, but has been the root cause of his unhappiness ever since.
Back in the family home Frank has to deal with younger brother Mike (Steve Zahn) who not only insisting on taking over as the patriarch but also adopting some of his father’s bullying tactics. His mother (the always wonderful Margo Martindale) plays the supportive Southern matriarch who is always completely deferential to her husband, but she will disclose a much more loving mother before the drama plays out.
Uncle Frank is a heart-touching old-fashioned coming out story that gay men of a certain age will relate too uncomfortably stirring up memories of their own. However not all of our stories ended up with the happy ending that Frank eventually deservedly got.
Ball weaves a few twists and turns to the plot, some that work better than others. He does ensure that we are engaged right to the final credits, and its’ all helped with a finely nuanced performance by Bettany in the title role.
Even if this film does not add to Ball’s large collection of awards, it is good to see him back on on the big screen, and with such a rare mature queer drama like this
P.S. Uncle Frank is released on Amazon Prime on 11/2 in the US