Beth (Sophia Lillis) has always felt something like an oddball within her family. But she can always relate to her uncle Frank (Paul Bettany), who's far more liberal and understanding than the rest of her clan. They reconnect when she attends the university he works at as a professor. Then, when her grandfather and his father die, they head on a road trip together along with Frank's boyfriend, Wally (Peter Macdissi).
'Uncle Frank' opens on Beth's lively extended family as adults and children run around, moms and dads yell, and grandma and grandpa yell, and threaten too. No wonder college life provides an escape for her, as well as a chance to meet boys and have sex for the first time (her uncle even offers to pretend to be her father so she can go on birth control). Then fast as you "South Carolina: Come on Over!", she has reconnected with Frank, learned of his homosexuality, and is headed on a road trip with him back home.
For a comedy-drama, 'Uncle Frank' has some funny moments, but is mostly all drama and poignancy. Sadly, it's not quite the amalgamation between coming-of-age, road trip, family drama, and LGBTQ narrative that one was hoping it would be. The points it raises about homophobia and old time norms and mores are rarely challenging. It just comes up short of its potential, unfortunately.
Still, there are two exquisite performances in Paul Bettany and Sophia Lillis, while Peter Macdissi (who collaborated with director Alan Ball before on 'Six Feet Under' and 'Banshee') makes a lovely, very likable addition. Bettany's Frank speaks with calmness, sincerity and wisdom (Marvel fans will definitely spot a lot of Vision likeness). But when it comes to his family, his stress and sorrow are tangible. Lillis is also very sweet, her efforts to understand Frank's homosexuality, which she has never been exposed to before, are innocent and sincere. But there isn't much to say about the other cast members, even with such talent as Judy Greer, Steve Zahn and Margo Martindale in the mix.
Carried off largely thanks to the leads, 'Uncle Frank' lacks anything extraordinary and is certainly not as revolutionary as it pertains to be. It rolls over into an anti-climax that wraps up everything a little too simplistically and nicey nice. As for recommending taking the time to watch it, we've said it in the title - you can take or leave it.
'Uncle Frank' is streaming on Amazon Prime now.