Starring Isabelle Huppert, Marissa Tomei, Brenden Gleeson, Sennia Nanua, Ariyon Bakare, Ana Brandão, Greg Kinnear, Jérémie Renier
Writer/director Ira Sachs (Love is Strange, Keep the Lights On) has always been interested in exploring human interaction, more specifically, strenuous relationships. Noah Baumbach gets a mention in the script, but it’s Woody Allen that Sachs unintentionally molds the framing and pacing of Frankie after. The assembly of actors is quite impressive, just seeing Oscar winner Tomei (Spider-Man Homecoming) and Oscar nominee Huppert (Greta) together on screen is worth the price of admission. The remote coastal location in Portugal is the second major point of interest. What stalls Frankie most is the editing, especially in the first third of the film as long scenes are stacked together with no transition and little connectivity. When the pace picks up and the musical score is introduced, those transitions and our growing familiarity with the characters find a better rhythm.
Françoise Crémont (Huppert) is a well-regarded French actress of television and film but her career and indeed her life is rapidly coming to an end. She specifically doesn’t want tears, nor a fuss. Instead, she has summoned those she cares about the most to Sintra, Portugal, where she will make her final bids known. Her supportive husband Jimmy (Gleeson) holds back his emotions while she informs those attending the weekend. Her son Paul (Renier) knows of course, but his attendance is so Frankie can set him up with one of her best friends Ilene (Tomei). When filmmaker Gary (Kinnear) shows up on Irene’s arm, it’s another reminder to Frankie that life will do what it wants, and not what she tries to manipulate.
What stalls Frankie most is the editing, especially in the first third of the film as long scenes are stacked together with no transition and little connectivity.
One of the few stand-outs in the early moments of the film is a casual conversation between Irene and Jimmy. It’s so casual, you almost feel as if you have accidently caught Tomei and Gleeson having a private conversation. Here, we get the mention of Baumbach and then Star Wars. It’s not easy to create that type of familiarity so effortlessly. Unfortunately, Brandão and Bakare (Life) don’t experience that same clarity or comfort on screen. A large portion of screen time is devoted to Frankie’s stepdaughter played by Brandão, but her scenes, along with that family, are isolated from the rest of the cast and plot. Either they couldn’t film at the same time as everyone else, and Sachs just failed to integrate the two plot lines, or perhaps something was left on the cutting room floor. The same goes for Sennia Nanua (The Girl with All the Gifts) who is quite charming in the film, but her scenes are unrelated to everything else happening in the story.
As far as emotions go, for a film about someone telling those close to her goodbye, Sachs doesn’t play anything for tears. There isn’t too much laughter either, he keeps us focused right in the middle of clarity and assuredness. There is one cringeworthy moment where Gary, who is fairly clueless as to what’s going on around him, pitches a script to Frankie. “When will this go into production”, she asks, as if wanting to see his embarrassment when she tells him she won’t be around for his first feature. Nature is very much part of Sachs vision, the crashing waves on the beach, the sunset beyond the cliffs, or the calming jungle walks. Frankie is in a way a meditative film, it’s slow pacing, the calmness of the dialogue. The film is at its strongest when it’s simply follows the characters around, allowing the audience to contemplate what they might be thinking or feeling based upon their previous conversations.
While often misguided and poorly edited, Frankie still manages a meditative mood thanks to well written characters and beguiling location.