As is common in the industry, Greg Kinnear has worked with the same directors for multiple films. Specifically, he’s starred in two movies each for four directors. With this review of Frankie, I’ve now reviewed all of these repeat appearances. They are:
- The Ira Sachs movies Little Men and Frankie
- The Richard Linklater movies Bad News Bears and Fast Food Nation
- The Randall Wallace movies Heaven is for Real and We Were Soldiers
- Sam Raimi’s The Gift plus his wife Gillian Greene’s Murder of a Cat
This list prompts a few observations & questions. First, I count the last pair because Raimi produced Murder of a Cat and was the connection required to recruit Greg. Second, I don’t count Greg’s appearances in Josh Boone’s Stuck in Love and The Stand, because the latter is a TV series that hasn’t come out yet. That said, Boone’s screenplay for Stuck in Love openly panders to Stephen King and it’s cool to see Boone now adapting King’s classic novel for TV. I also think Greg Kinnear is perfectly cast as Glen Bateman. Third, I must ask–why has Greg never been in more than two movies for a given director? I can only guess the answer. Maybe Greg’s rapport is good but not great with directors. It’s not the same level as Michael B. Jordan with Ryan Coogler or Michael Shannon with Jeff Nichols. Alternatively, maybe most of the directors Greg works with aren’t good enough to be prolific or are good directors making their C-list movies.
Moving on, the “repeat appearance list” demands to be ranked because that’s what I do! In my opinion of movie quality, the Sachs duo (one great, one good) > the Raimi/Greene duo (one great, one terrible) > the Wallace duo (both average) = the Linklater duo (both average). In Rotten Tomatoes’ opinion (averaging scores for each movie pair), the Sachs duo (77%) > the Wallace duo (56.5%) > the Linklater duo (49%) > the Raimi/Greene duo (42%). Cool. You should watch Ira Sachs’ movies with Greg Kinnear. But box office numbers tell a different story. Here, the Wallace duo ($217M) > the Raimi/Greene duo ($45M) > the Linklater duo ($36.5M) > the Sachs duo ($2.7M). It’s startling that the Wallace movies outperformed the Sachs movies by two orders of magnitude. On the one hand, it makes sense. Wallace’s movies were bigger productions tailored to a larger audience, while Sachs’ movies were small arthouse features. On the other hand, Wallace’s movies don’t hold a candle to Sachs’s movies. I highly praised Little Men in my last post. Here, I’ll give Frankie a little love.
The movie takes place within one day, centered on an aging actress (Isabelle Huppert as Frankie). She’s gathered her friends & family in Sintra, Portugal to tell them she’s dying of cancer. The movie doesn’t have a plot, but rather explores each guest’s story as it intersects with Huppert’s imminent death. Brendan Gleeson, Huppert’s second & current husband, already knows the news and mostly just wallows in sadness. Vinette Robinson, Gleeson’s daughter & Huppert’s stepdaughter, plans to divorce her husband, but first wants to secure her own flat and determine what her inheritance will be from Huppert. Vinette’s teenage daughter spends the movie traveling to a beach and hooking up with a boy. It’s rather uninteresting, but the scenery is quite nice. (The movie was filmed in the Portuguese Riviera).
Jérémie Renier, Huppert’s son from her first marriage, is a listless bachelor planning to move to New York. Huppert’s dying wish is to see him married, and she’s invited her hair stylist (Marisa Tomei) to Portugal so she can play matchmaker. However, Tomei has a boyfriend (Greg Kinnear) who she met while the two worked on the set of Star Wars. (Here, the movie’s not-so-subtle point is that big blockbusters are squeezing out indie films). Greg’s also come on the trip, and promptly proposes to Tomei. It’s awkward and he clearly didn’t read the room. Tomei needs some space and walks off. She later talks to Huppert, and Greg does the same. When they reconnect, Tomei and Greg break up. Tomei eventually learns of Huppert’s hopes that she’ll be attracted to Renier. But basically as soon as she meets & talks with Renier it’s clear that they’re incompatible.
The movie ends with all the guests (minus Greg who’s left) walking up a mountain at sunset for Huppert to officially share her news. Counter to a character’s death inspiring major life changes, the movie’s message is that even as death closes in on a larger-than-life figure–her family’s problems and personalities remain an essential part of their humanity. Renier is still a listless bachelor whose quirks render a “rebound relationship” a non-starter for Tomei. Tomei’s own confused soul-searching is now tinged with sorrow at the imminent death of her close friend. Likewise, Vinette’s marital problems are only worsened by this “family vacation” as the close quarters allow her husband to discover her intentions. She’ll also discover sometime after the movie ends what the viewer learned: Huppert’s donated her wealth to a scholarship for actors. This loss of an inheritance will only make Vinette’s path to independence harder.
Even with this sorrowful true-to-life message, Frankie has too many characters and the finale was largely forgettable. The parts of this movie are stronger than the whole and Sachs’s strength of showing-more-than-telling come through in many intimate individual scenes. In particular, Huppert, Tomei, and Kinnear were incredible. The scenes with these actors strike “a balance between melancholy and wit,” with Huppert pairing fiery independence with a growing loss of control; Tomei showing many shades of sorrow when grief is added to romantic confusion; and Kinnear doing his best to remain hopeful as his love is unrequited. (Fun fact: Tomei was also the best part of Someone Like You with Kinnear. She’s a queen). Two other strengths about Frankie is that it nicely mixes French & English dialogue and its wardrobe choices are fantastic. Huppert wears many stylish outfits, while Tomei sports a floral dress plus sneakers combo that is aces.
A Dorky Dreamer
Greg Kinnear’s character is a middle-aged DP (aka cinematographer) with two goals. First, he wants to take a break from DP work to direct a movie he’s been working on. He hopes Huppert will be the star. Second, he wants to settle down and move in with Tomei. Arriving in Sintra, the city’s beauty only enflames Greg’s childlike enthusiasm. On arriving at their hotel, he literally pulls the embarrassing dad/excited manchild move of “look at this place! It’s amazing!” Soon after, he goes about awkwardly acting on his aspirations.
In his scenes with Huppert and Tomei, Greg fills his lines with awkwardness, optimism, and innocence. As neither women return his feelings, Greg doesn’t so much despair as sadly accept his lot in life. These scenes play so well precisely because Huppert and Tomei know things Greg doesn’t which influence their reactions. When Greg proposes to Tomei, it’s awkward and bumbling and not so much a proposal as a “hey, why do we own two houses when we could share one?” It’s classic awkward Kinnear. Tomei knows in her gut she doesn’t want to marry him, but can only give a “let’s explore the city” response as she power walks away. As Greg tries to keep up, the viewer can’t help but feel bad.
When Greg later approaches Huppert about her film, her response is cooler. She lets him ramble about his film, (again awkwardly) pseudo-ask her to star in it, and try to decipher if Huppert knows Tomei’s feelings. Huppert withholds essential facts (i.e., she’s dying & can’t star in the film and she wants Tomei to marry her son not Greg) and instead responds cooly and bluntly. We again can’t help but feel bad.
In Greg’s final scene, breaking up with Tomei, he’s accepted his fate, but remains optimistic (he’ll travel to a new city!) and realistic (he tells Tomei it’s not a good idea when she suggests working with him on his new film). In sum, Greg’s role is small but he fills his character with childlike hope, awkwardness, muted resignation, and realism.
- Considering the four directors Greg’s worked with twice, Ira Sachs’s Little Men and Frankie are the best pair. Watch these character-driven art house dramas.
- Frankie follows a dying actress as she assembles her friends & family in Portugal to share her news. The movie’s parts work much better than it’s whole.
- Isabelle Huppert, Marisa Tomei, and Greg Kinnear steal the show with delicate and nuanced performances.
- Next-up: Remember when I said Greg works with good directors making C-list movies? Amy Heckerling followed up the all-time classic Clueless with the aptly-named Loser. Greg’s in one of them.
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