Watching Frankie gave me feelings of déjà vu, proving that there are most definitely formulaic elements to many independent films. It is not enough that there are countless of them in beautifully historic European settings, or countless more that deal with the intricacies of family melodrama, and even more still that have a terminal illness at the center of the storyline; Frankie combines all of these cliché independent elements into one film, somehow doing justice to none. This is not to say that Frankie is a poorly made film, but it is most certainly a slight and forgettable one.
Packed with a stellar recognizable cast, Frankie never fully makes use of them due to a script that meanders without much purpose. There are more than enough characters, but not nearly enough screen time is spent with any of them, so that they basically still feel like strangers by the time the credits roll. At the center of the narrative is title character, Frankie (Isabelle Huppert), a legendary actress on vacation with her family in Portugal. Introduced to Frankie as she takes a topless swim at an expensive resort (somehow, I feel this isn’t the first film to feature Huppert doing this), we soon discover that her carefree attitude is tied to an unfortunate medical diagnosis which has her doing her best to appreciate life to the fullest. Unfortunately, the remainder of the film burdens Frankie with banal melodrama involving her family and close friends. This is not the way I would spend my last days.
As Frankie meanders around the resort town in Portugal, having uncomfortable conversations with family as she attempts to put their lives in order before her death and awkwardly dealing with the occasional obtrusive fan, the rest of the characters seem oddly preoccupied with things other than the title character. While we do see her husband Jimmy (Brandan Gleeson) mourning in advance, he spends an oddly disproportionate amount of time away from the wife he tells everyone he will miss so much once she has gone. The fact that some of this time is even spent flirting with one of the younger characters is also hard to comprehend.
Somehow Jimmy still manages to be one of the more sympathetic supporting characters, as the rest of the family spends far more time with their own issues. When Frankie tries desperately to set up her son (a mopey Jérémie Renier with a distractingly bad hairstyle) with a former co-worker (Marisa Tomei), he is more interested in lamenting the women he has lost in his past. And when the setup is finally fulfilled with a scene between the two of them, it is so devoid of chemistry that the 100-minute run-time feels inaccurate. It doesn’t help that she arrives in Portugal with a man she has been dating for some time (Greg Kinnear in a role that deserves more attention within the script), despite not having much more chemistry with him. Meanwhile, Frankie’s adopted daughter (Vinette Robinson) has marital issues that she refuses to face with her husband (Ariyon Bakare), who has resorted to getting the truth from their daughter (Sennia Nanua). Eventually discussion goes back to Frankie, but there is so much time spent on various subplots that it becomes difficult to tell where the film’s center lies.
Even with more time spent understanding these characters, and a better focus on the direction of the narrative, Frankie often feels tonally inconsistent. At times it feels like an imitation of Woody Allen’s familiar brand of humor (set in Europe, complete with uncomfortable relationship interactions meant to amuse us), while the next moment seems dedicated to heavy melodrama. Unfortunately, none of these moments feel fleshed out successfully enough to work. Even when the actors are great (particularly Huppert, Gleeson, and Kinnear), the screenplay lets them down. I often found myself wondering what the point of each scene was by the end of it.
The Blu-ray release of Frankie comes with a Q&A with director/co-writer Ira Sachs and Huppert, as well as a theatrical trailer. The high definition of the Blu-ray release is good for seeing the beauty of the filming location, though one gets the impression that this choice benefited the cast and crew far more than it does the audience.
Entertainment Value: 4/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 3/10