A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Uncle Frank is a dramedy in which a gay man named Frank (Paul Bettany) and his 18-year-old niece drive from New York City to their South Carolina hometown to attend his father's funeral. The movie is set in 1973, and Frank hasn't come out to his conservative family. The movie centers on his reckoning with a traumatic past that involved the suicide of his first boyfriend. Frank is a recovering alcoholic, and he falls off the wagon upon returning home, resulting in binge drinking, surly and belligerent behavior, and a violent altercation with his boyfriend. Some sex scenes (no nudity), including two women in bed at a party and a boy and girl in college trying to have sex. At a party, a college freshman aggressively flirts with Frank, making sexual advances that he avoids. References to oral sex, penis size. Some profanity, including "f--k" used several times, as well as ethnic and homophobic slurs. Marijuana and cigarette smoking. In addition to Frank's drinking, there's wine and beer drinking, and Frank's niece, after drinking too much, ends up vomiting into the toilet and is shown hungover the next day. Overall, this movie shows the intense struggles of gay men forced to live a lie due to social stigma and conservative family members. In a broader context, the movie explores the importance of being true to yourself and not being what others expect you to be.
What's the story?
In UNCLE FRANK, it's 1973, and Beth (Sophia Lillis) is a college freshman starting at NYU, where her beloved Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany) works as a professor. Upon learning of a party that Frank is throwing, she arrives and soon discovers that Frank is a gay man in a serious relationship with a man named Walid (Peter Macdissi). Fearing the scorn of their conservative family in their South Carolina hometown, Frank has kept his sexual orientation a secret. But when Frank's father dies, Emily and Frank must return to their hometown, and Frank forbids Walid from going with them. As Frank and Beth road-trip their way down to South Carolina, it's soon discovered that the garrulous Walid has followed them, and has every intention of being with Frank during this difficult time. As they arrive home, Frank is haunted by traumas of his past and the pain of his father's hatred for who he is. A recovering alcoholic, Frank starts drinking again to numb the pain of the past and present, much to Walid's fear and dismay. As Beth confronts Frank's fear of coming out, Frank is soon forced to reveal who he is, and must decide if he can be proud of who he is, or run away in shame from his family.
Is it any good?
Uncle Frank works as a "coming out" movie, a coming-of-age movie, and a road trip movie. Ultimately, it's a deeply moving story about being true to oneself, despite those who want and expect something different. The movie was written and directed by Alan Ball, best known for American Beauty, True Blood, and Six Feet Under, and he once again movingly explores such themes as coming out, growing up, identity, life and death, and the complexity in family relationships.
As Frank, Paul Bettany powerfully captures a man who's tearing himself apart as he must confront the costs of living a lie and the pain of the past. As Beth, a misfit in her own right among their family for applying her intelligence and taking Uncle Frank's admonition to "be what you want to be" to heart, Sophia Lillis captures the nuances of an 18-year-old learning to make her way in the world while starting to discover just how difficult it can be to live up to ideals when faced with reality. As Frank's lover and foil Walid, Peter Macdissi plays a man who often brings comic relief, but also struggles with the pain of a closeted existence to his family in Saudi Arabia. Between its Deep South setting and subject matter, there are so many ways in which this movie could be an endless succession of shopworn tropes and hackneyed characters, but it's a testament to the talents of everyone involved that Uncle Frank avoids these traps. The ultimate takeaway is about more than growing up or coming out, but about the very human need for unconditional love from those with whom we are closest.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about "coming out" stories. How does the movie explore the theme of "coming out" during a time when LGBTQ pride and acceptance was in its earliest stages?
How is this movie also a "coming-of-age" story? How do the stories of Beth and Frank intersect, particularly in the themes?
How does this compare to other LGBTQ movies you've seen?
- On DVD or streaming: November 25, 2020
- Cast: Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi
- Director: Alan Ball
- Studio: Amazon Studios
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, History
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Language, some sexual references and drug use.
- Last updated: January 13, 2022
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