Chris Knight: It feels very scripted, with characters running into each other at just the perfect moment, and unburdening themselves to strangers
Shot in sunny, touristy Sintra on the coast of Portugal, the latest from Ira Sachs feels like late-career Woody Allen, of which there’s been relatively little of late. It’s got a sprawling cast of the very famous (Isabelle Huppert, Brendan Gleeson), the semi-famous (Greg Kinnear) and relative unknowns.
And it feels very scripted, with characters running into each other at just the perfect moment, and unburdening themselves to strangers. “Hey, I know we’ve just met, but can I tell you about the time I slept with my stepsister-to-be?”
Huppert plays Frankie Crémont, a famous French actress with terminal cancer, who has summoned her extended family together for a weekend reunion. Appalling for a European ensemble, at no point do they gather for a huge outdoor meal. But everything else about the picture feels – well, picturesque. Scenes are blocked just so, with characters in handy two-shots. The dialogue is scripted and a little wooden, the setups set up.
Gleeson plays Frankie’s latest husband, but there’s also a former partner (Pascal Greggory), two kids (Jérémie Renier and Vinette Robinson) and assorted others. Outside the family circle is Ilene (Marisa Tomei), Frankie’s one-time hairdresser, now long-time friend; and Gary (Kinnear), who wants to marry her.
It’s too little too late for this one, which has already stumbled in too many little ways to fully recover
He’s in Spain working as the second-unit director of photography on “the new Star Wars film,” while she was recently on “the Noah Baumbach movie in New York” – two references guaranteed to keep Frankie feeling current for at least the next decade. We also meet a few locals, but they function as no more than tour guides and helpful sounding boards to these chatty, self-absorbed foreigners. “Let me tell you the legend of this magic fountain.” That sort of thing.
Sachs gets points for the film’s conclusion, a dialogue-free ten-minute finale shot mostly in a very wide angle over classical piano music; it feels like it was dropped in from a much more interesting movie. It’s too little too late for this one, which has already stumbled in too many little ways to fully recover. If Sachs wants to reuse it as the opening shot of his next project, he might have something.
Frankie opens Nov. 8 in Toronto and Nov. 15 in Montreal, with other cities to follow.