A drama full of mental turmoil, whilst having a bucket load of charm, threatened to drown in a subject just tad water-downed for mainstream audiences.
Paul Bettany gets to flex his non-marvel acting chops in a coming-out drama during a time where anything other than heterosexuality in certain US states was more than frowned upon.
Told via the narrative of Sophia Ellis’s Beth, the teenage niece of Bettany’s Uncle Frank, and mostly set in 1973 in South Carolina, we are introduced to the Bledsoe family during a family birthday. While the women are in the kitchen preparing food and the men in the living room watching American Football, Beth finds herself drawn to her favourite Uncle Frank, sat out on the porch, an outsider of the family, where the pair share a special bond.
Jump a few years ahead, Beth moves to New York to attend University, a university in which Uncle Frank is a professor. With the bright lights of New York comes a more liberal lifestyle and Beth finally discovers Franks big secret, He is gay and has been living with his attentive and homely lover Wally (Peter Macdissi) for a number of years. Promising to keep his secret from the rest of the family, along with Wally, Beth becomes a major support in his life.
Where you would expect this story to fulfil its heaviest plotline comes when Frank receives the call his masculine and hatred filled Father has passed away. The three embark on a road trip back to South Carolina and even though this is told from Beth’s viewpoint we end in the head of Frank who relives his troubled childhood and the uncover the catalyst which severed any loving relationship between father and son. Even though it has heartbreaking elements to the story it just skips the surface of the issues as Frank turns to the bottle to numb his pain. Especially after his father has one last cutting dig from the grave.
Bettany reminds us that his talents are not just confined to a comic book hero as he goes through the mental anguish of the hatred he felt from his father, at a young age after he discovered his attraction to men. Peter Macdissi is also a hidden gem, delivering the light-hearted comedy from sinking to dark into the depths of homophobia.
Director Alan Ball has kept a certain levity in the deliverance of a story that will speak to numerous people who would have suffered the same treatment, but it could be argued that the subject wasn’t taken dark enough to hit home the perilous mental attitudes of the time.
Uncle Frank hits Amazon Prime Video November 25th