Drama, PG-13, 98 minutes, in English, French, and Portuguese with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 2.5 chiles
Nobody’s very happy in Frankie. This is understandable, since Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) is dying (but looking marvelous). Before she goes, she’s gathered her nearest and dearest to the picturesque Portuguese seaside town of Sintra for a family vacation cum death reckoning.
On hand are her husband, Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson), miserable because his wife is dying; her son Paul (Jérémie Renier), miserable because he can’t maintain a relationship; and her stepdaughter Sylvia (Vinette Robinson), miserable because of her failing marriage to Ian (Ariyon Bakare), who is similarly miserable, as is their teenage daughter Maya (Sennia Nanua). Filling out the party are her younger friend Ilene (Marisa Tomei), whom Frankie has invited over from New York to join the fun in hopes of fixing her up with Paul, and the boyfriend (Greg Kinnear), whom Ilene has unexpectedly brought along; they’re both miserable, for different reasons. There’s even a Portuguese tour guide who has marriage woes. Oh, and there’s Frankie’s gay ex-husband Michel (Pascal Greggory), who seems reasonably content.
Frankie is a famous French actress, a role Huppert could play in her sleep. Not that she does. Huppert is never less than interesting, and here she commands the screen as Frankie faces mortality with a Gallic shrug. Huppert anchors the fine international cast that writer/director Ira Sachs (with co-screenwriter Mauricio Zacharias) has assembled in this photogenic setting (beautifully rendered by cinematographer Rui Poças). The problem is Sachs hasn’t given his characters enough interesting stuff to do. There are a few sharp scenes, but for the most part, the story drifts along in isolated pockets of conversation as the characters discuss the looming end of marriage, family, romance, hope, and life itself.
There are a number of ghostly cinematic influences hovering over this film. It’s been much compared to Éric Rohmer’s mesmerizing talkathons, and you can find a strong resemblance to the work of Henry Jaglom (particularly Last Summer in the Hamptons). Comparisons to Woody Allen’s serious fare, like September (1987), come to mind, reinforced by the move Sachs has made from his comfort zone of New York City, where his earlier films Love Is Strange (2014) and Little Men (2016) were set, to Europe.
There are worse ways to spend a chilly evening than among the lush beaches, woods, and hills of Sintra, in the company of the great Isabelle Huppert. But there’s an alchemy to the talk in a Rohmer movie that isn’t captured here.