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At a time when families have been divided by political disagreements, Uncle Frank explores the enduring, loving bonds of family and the ways they link us together – whether we live close or worlds apart.
It comes from Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under), who excels at exploring the awkward, uncomfortable issues of family members who feel that they don’t fit in. Yet it’s also a timeless portrait of the self-hatred that can arise from the lack of family acceptance, and the profound toll it can take.
Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany of The Avengers franchise) is an outcast among the good ole boys of his South Carolina family, who love nothing more than drinking beer and watching sports. A college professor now living in New York City, Frank arrives for a visit, and finds himself idolized by his teenage niece Beth (star-on-the-rise Sophia Lillis).
“Are you gonna be the person you want to be?” Frank asks Beth. “Or the person everyone expects you to be?” It’s a life-changing moment that propels her to attend college in New York. But once there, she learns that her beloved Uncle is living a closeted gay life, trying to be the person others expect of him.
When the family patriarch dies, the duo takes a road trip back to South Carolina for the funeral, a journey filled with new experiences and personal awakenings that change them both.
In our era of legal gay marriage, it may be surprising to younger generations to learn how risky and dangerous it was to be openly gay as recently as the 1960’s and 70’s, even in a progressive city like New York. The film explores the painful machinations of leading a closeted life, from family dinners with Frank’s fake girlfriend, to attending important events alone because his true-life partner would not be accepted. It also adroitly illustrates how many people use religion to dismiss or dislike things they don’t understand.
This could be considered an important family holiday film to share with kinfolk about the challenges of gay life, as it shows that ultimately, family and love endure. Audiences who enjoy Ryan Murphy shows like Netflix Hollywood or FX’s Pose will love the complex characters of Beth, Uncle Frank and his partner Walid.
It’s rated R. Issues (or events) of a gay lifestyle are seen through the eyes of welcoming friends — and unwelcoming family. And as noted in voice over, many gay people without family acceptance either think about, attempt, or succeed at suicide.