*Uncle Frank* is a movie that deserved a big screen theatre release. It is a movie to watch, with your friends, with allies and the family of your heart – whether that is by blood or by choosing. The movie follows Beth Bledsoe, who watches her Uncle Frank deal with the grief of his father’s disowning, and his deep self-hatred and despair.
We first meet Beth as a fourteen-year-old girl. Surrounded by her extended, noisy family, she feels isolated from them (as so many fourteen-year-old girls do), and the only person she feels comfortable with is her Uncle Frank. Her grandfather (quaintly referred to as “Daddy Mac” by the rest of the family) treats Frank with contempt, but what is clear to the contemporary viewer is that casual cruelty to children is the norm in the household – not out of abuse, but simply because that is how Daddy Mac thinks love is expressed, how children must be disciplined. Frank stands out to Beth because he does not engage in that casual cruelty. He listens to her seriously, takes her seriously and allows her to be ambitious.
Four years later, Beth, now in college where her uncle teaches, crashes his party with a boy who’s no good for her. In this adult, sophisticated milieu, Frank is a sexually attractive man, interesting and desired. Through a series of mishaps, Frank reveals to Beth that he is gay, and introduces her to his partner, Walid, “Wally”, a Saudi Arabian immigrant, intellectual, kind, also sophisticated.
Beth is open to this revelation in a way I found unexpected, but she cannot spend time getting to know her uncle and his partner – they receive news that Daddy Mac has passed away. Frank agrees to drive Beth to the funeral, though it is obvious he isn’t keen on going himself.
Over the course of the film, we see Frank’s history as he relives it, traumatically and with deep shame. His father’s condemnation of his homosexuality. Wally’s care and concern for him. His own conflicted feelings about his father. In one of the cruellest scenes in any movie about queerness and family, Daddy Mac’s will outs Frank as homosexual to the rest of his family, disowning him from any inheritance. Wally’s history is seen in bits and pieces too, but he is here as support to Frank.(He deserves his own movie.)
Uncle Frank has a hopefulness for our family’s acceptance of us and our desires and our loves that I find somewhat overly optimistic. What shines in the film are Frank’s scenes of remembrance of his first love, and his final breakdown by that boy’s graveside, comforted by his partner who has stuck by him when Frank is at his worst.
For me, Wally is the unsung hero of the movie, more than Frank, more than Beth. wally watches over a distant lover who expresses his pain and sorrow through rage or through drinking. He understands and forgives the unforgivable, though making it clear these excesses cannot happen again. His faith in the family – of the heart – is an active faith, where he supports his partner even when his partner does not, at that moment, show an openness to receiving that support, though he clearly spirals without it. The climactic scene by that graveside is one of the best redemptive moments of queer love I’ve seen because it is simple. We are each other’s families. No one needs to witness it for that to be true.
For a viewer who wants a dramatic movie with a more or less happy ending (romantically and otherwise!), this is the movie for you.