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Uncle Frank

Directed by Alan Ball 2020 United States 95 Minutes

In 1973, teenaged Beth Bledsoe (Sophia Lillis) leaves her rural Southern hometown to study at New York University, where her beloved uncle Frank (Paul Bettany) is a revered literature professor. She soon discovers that Frank is gay and living with his longtime partner Walid “Wally” Nadeem (Peter Macdissi)—an arrangement which he has kept secret for years. After the sudden death of Frank’s father—and Beth’s grandfather—Frank is forced to reluctantly return home for the funeral with Beth and Wally in tow, and to finally face a long-buried trauma, one he’s spent his entire adult life running away from.

Writer-director Alan Ball’s heartfelt and hilarious road movie travels from the bohemian scene of post-Stonewall New York City to rural South Carolina, following Frank’s painful journey from hitting rock bottom to acceptance and forgiveness and, finally, reintegration into his family and into life itself. Bettany’s moving performance reveals Frank’s fragile core, peeling away the layers of his sophisticated but guarded persona. Sophia Lillis shows us a naive but observant young woman whose eyes are opened to a world she could never have imagined, and Peter Macdissi shines as a man whose capacity for compassion runs deeper than he even knows. As in his exceptional TV dramas (Six Feet Under, True Blood), Ball elicits strong turns from his superb cast, including Stephen Root, Margo Martindale, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, and Lois Smith.

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