Cinephiles are sure to hear a lot about Frankie, the newest from director Ira Sachs (Little Men) and a darling at Cannes this year. And while the film boasts a rather impressive cast of internationally respected names like Isabelle Huppert, Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear and any number of others who are probably huge in Europe, its minimalist approach ultimately droops under the weight of too much nothingness.
Huppert is Frankie, a big-time actress facing a terminal disease who gathers friends and family in Sintra, Portugal, for what must be the most maudlin vacation of all time. Knowing full well her fate, her adult children struggle with their own realities despite the gorgeous Portuguese backdrop. Frankie's daughter (Vinette Robinson) yearns to leave her husband, her son (Jérémie Renier) searches for meaning in his life through the past and finds none; a former on-set hairstylist of Frankie's (Tomei) grapples with a lovesick boyfriend (Kinnear) pushing for too much, too soon and her ex-husband (Pascal Greggory), finally free to be openly gay, trades marriage stories with her current beau (Gleeson). It's all very selfish and charming and human if a little bit boring.
Thus, the world of Frankie is rather pretty and hypnotic at first, but as the single day in which the film plays out unfolds, the conversational vignettes grow stale. Kudos all around for natural and nuanced performances from some of film's most seasoned vets, but by the fifth or sixth awkward exchange between Frankie and her hangers-on, it's a challenge to stay put. In the end, we just feel bad for those who've been drawn into Frankie's powerful orbit—she's manipulative and cunning and, despite staring down the barrel of so much love, seems uncomfortable in her own skin, particularly at the idea that her kids might not live out their lives the way she wants.
There is so much in the setup, in fact, to be drawn to, it's a pity Sachs' vision feels self-indulgent and downright trite now and then. As travelogue movies go, one could do plenty worse. In other words, come for the character studies and stay for the Portugal of it all, but don't expect filmmaking bliss so much as a simple and uneven glimpse into the life of the flawed. Stars … they're just like us.
+So beautiful; the performances
-So slow; pretty much nothing happens
Directed by Sachs
With Huppert, Gleeson, Tomei and Kinnear
Center for Contemporary Arts, PG-13, 98 min.