This drama film follows a family on vacation in Sintra Portugal. At the head of the family is matriarch Frankie (Isabelle Huppert), a renowned actress and the orchestrator of the vacation. Joining Frankie is her husband Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson), his daughter Sylvia (Vinette Robinson), her husband Ian (Ariyon Bakare), and their daughter Maya (Sennia Nanua). Rounding out the ensemble is Frankie’s ex-husband Michel (Pascal Greggory) and their son Paul (Jérémie Renier), as well as Frankie’s friend Ilene (Marisa Tomei). Frankie has invited Ilene in the hopes of introducing her to Paul who is single. Unbeknownst to Frankie however, Ilene has brought her friend Gary (Greg Kinnear) along with her. The film follows these characters as they wrestle with the complexities and the ups and downs of life, love, relationships, and family as they learn more about themselves and each other.
Writer/director Ira Sachs, along with co-writer Mauricio Zacharias and the rest of the cast and crew craft a film that puts character and humanity front and center. In this film, there are quite a few plot threads that are reminiscent of other narratives. Many films, books, and plays feature characters dealing with a rocky marriage and contemplating divorce, stories of characters looking back on life and what they may have done differently or will do differently in the future and so on. While these plot points are familiar, Sachs and Zacharias keep the film from being redundant or cliche by limiting the amount of exposition and resolution the audience is permitted to. While the audience is familiar with certain aspects of life the characters are grappling with during the runtime, we are not privy to a lot of the history, context, and subtext that inform these characters and their actions. Furthermore, it remains unclear what will happen to these characters after the events of the film.
While the film does a great job of highlighting the depth of the characters, the large size of the cast requires the film to jump around a fair amount in order to cover the various characters and their arcs. This leads to a slightly disorienting effect where a character or characters will disappear from the narrative for a period of time only for the film to cut back to them at a later point, requiring the audience to re-acquaint themselves with where this character is in their journey at that moment in the film.
As the characters and their complex psychologies and dynamics are arguably the centerpiece of the film, the performance by the entire cast serves as the film’s anchoring feature. This is especially true for Isabelle Huppert’s performance as the titular character. At the start of the film, the character of Frankie comes across as somewhat domineering and vain. As the film progresses however, Frankie’s motivations and nuance becomes more evident. Huppert does a great job of revealing new dimensions of Frankie while still giving one the feeling that even by the film’s end, we have just scratched the surface of this character. Gleeson also gives a strong performance as Jimmy, serving as a great companion to Huppert’s Frankie. Where Frankie is sometimes blunt, direct, and even harsh in certain scenes, Gleeson plays Jimmy with a sense of calm, warmth, and vulnerability.
The cinematography by Rui Pocas is another standout aspect of the film. As stated above, the performances and characters are the most prominent feature and Pocas compliments this beautifully by mostly keeping the camera at a distance from the characters. This has the effect of framing the characters elegantly against Portugese landscapes and architecture. The largely wide shots allow the actors to freely move around and embody their characters within the frame in a similar way that is seen in the films of Noah Baumbach and Richard Linklater.
Frankie is a film featuring some well known and established tropes of the romantic and family dramas. At the same time, by limiting the amount of backstory and resolution present in the script, the filmmakers and cast have made a film that takes a genuine look at the humanity at the center of these stories. Featuring strong performances and gorgeous cinematography, fans of character dramas should seek this film out.