Ira Sachs’ latest is a hollow yet picturesque film on a decaying star
In his follow-up to Little Men, Ira Sachs delivers a picturesque but hollow film that features talky scenes combined with postcard-like scenes of the beautiful town of Sintra in Portugal. The problem is that while the film is visually pleasant, the narrative feels hollow and fails to create compelling characters that viewers can ultimately care about.
Franocise Cremont (Isabelle Huppert) is a French actress who has been diagnosed with cancer. After battling it for a couple of years, it takes the best of her and she is bound to die by the end of the year. It is then that she decides to gather her family members in Sintra for a final family reunion. These include her husband Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson), her ex-husband Michel (Pascal Greggory), her children as well as her hair stylist Iilene (Marisa Tomei) who unexpectedly brings her boyfriend Gary (Greg Kinnear). Over the course of just one day, we see the fractures that exist within each side of the family – be it marital failure, fear, anger or pain.
Sachs lays out his characters well but the screenplay fails to make them appealing enough to connect. The film suffers from a pacing issue that makes its dialogue-heavy scenes less engaging as the story drags along. Thin characterization is one reason – the characters speak but never reveal their true motivations if ever there is one, and when they do, it all feels too familiar, mundane and sometimes pointless. There are no resolutions, character arcs or big dramatic moments – not that that defines a good film. But when the intrigue is stripped away, all what’s left is a plain drama that doesn’t create much buildup or investment to make it a worthy entry in Sachs’ filmography.
Performances are a mixed bag: Marisa Tomei stands out as Frankie’s hairstylist and friend who is unsure about her future with her boyfriend and is among Frankie’s rare friends who see her for who she is instead of the star she is. Tomei makes the best out of an underwritten role and gets the chance to remind us of how we have missed her on screen. Huppert doesn’t get the opportunity to show her impeccable dramatic chops while the rest of the cast range between good and average. It may not be the performers’ fault – after all, the screenplay doesn’t make them resonate enough.
Exquisitely shot to the extent that it feels like a tourism-film to showcase Portugal’s beauty, Frankie has the scenery but lacks the heft, the spark to make it stand out.