Frankie

Isabelle Huppert as Frankie


Having made films with more than a hint of the French about them – character driven, focused on metropolitan angst, loose, semi-improvised acting style, unafraid to let nothing happen – Ira Sachs finally gets almost all of the way there with Frankie, a drama set in Portugal but with plenty of French speakers in his cast.

Patrice Chéreau’s 1998 drama Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train (Ceux Qui M’aiment Prendront le Train) is a close analogue, though here the central figure around which everything spins is still alive. She’s played by Isabelle Huppert as Françoise (aka Frankie), a famous actress who has called all her family together in Sintra, Portugal, for some yet-to-be-explained reason, though it isn’t hard to guess what it might be.

Pascal Greggory plays Frankie’s first husband and Sachs uses him more as a lucky charm – he was in Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train – than as an important character. As Michel, now a happily out gay man, he’s part of Frankie’s extended and blended family, including her second husband Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson), her son Paul (Jérémie Renier), Jimmy’s daughter Sylvia (Vinette Robinson), Sylvia’s husband Ian (Ariyon Bakare) and their daughter Maya (Sennia Nanua).

Floating around the edges is Frankie’s old friend Ilene (Marisa Tomei) and her on/off boyfriend Gary (Greg Kinnear) both of whom, we are told more often than seems necessary, are in Europe working on the latest Star Wars movie.

Relationships in various states of decay is Sachs’s abiding concern and they’re what gives this drama what little tension it has… eventually. Though everything constellates around Frankie, at the edges Paul is lovelorn, Sylvia and Ian’s marriage is in tatters, Gary is like a bull at a gate with the unconvinced Ilene, and young Maya is off at the beach, where a lusty local is giving her her first taste of the thing that’s causing most everyone else such grief. Frankie and Jimmy, meanwhile, are blissfully happy. But even there Sachs (and regular co-writer Mauricio Zacharias) does eventually raise a little question mark.

Marisa Tomei and Isabelle Huppert
Ilene and Frankie



Having been a fan of Sachs’s films since I first saw 2005’s Forty Shades of Blue, I wanted Frankie to work but it didn’t, or not often enough. Too many scenes felt awkward, as if improvisation as a guiding principle had just been taken too far, when what was really needed was for someone to shout “cut”, offer some notes to struggling actors and then go again. Quite why all the characters so often needed to shout was a mystery too.

That said, there are some fabulous moments that do just work – Huppert and Gleeson just sitting down at a piano together, saying barely a word, the long-delayed moment when Tomei’s Ilene and Renier’s Paul finally meet, for what the matchmaking Frankie is hoping will be the beginning of a love affair.

These moments come mostly towards the end. While Sachs is simultaneously wrapping up and suggesting that life goes on, the drama suddenly takes wing, almost as if on its own, in a couple of scenes notable for what’s not said rather than what is.

Huppert glides through the whole thing, partly because her character, Frankie, is one of those blithe spirits, partly because Huppert tends to glide, and partly because there really isn’t a whole lot of stuff going on, apart from the BIG THING, which is barely mentioned, and I won’t mention either.

A failure, but an interesting failure. Watch it to see actors you wouldn’t expect to see together – Kinnear and Huppert, for example – and to see sun-drenched Sintra, a town that looks busy and buzzy with tourists, with people enjoying themselves. There isn’t much of that going on with Frankie and her brood.



Frankie – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021






The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

2 December

 

 

Big Daddy dies, 1997

On this day in 1997, the wrestler born Shirley Crabtree in Halifax, England, in 1930, died. Crabtree came from a wrestling family – his father, also named Shirley Crabtree, was a wrestler, as were his nephews Steve and Scott Crabtree (though they both wrestled under the name Valentine). Shirley Crabtree followed his father into the ring in 1952 (the same year that Vince McMahon was creating the WWF brand in the USA). With his 64 inch chest and blond hair, Crabtree became a prominent blue-eye (ie hero type) and won the European Heavyweight Championships twice before retiring in 1966. He returned in 1972 as a heel (ie bad guy) with the character of the Battling Guardsman before returning again in 1974 as Big Daddy, named after the Burl Ives character in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Initially Big Daddy was a heel, an image that was reinforced when he formed a tag team with Martin Ruane, the 6ft 11in (2.11m) 685lb (311kg) wrestler known as Giant Haystacks, who would later become his arch rival. By 1977 Crabtree had returned yet again, again as Big Daddy, but this time as a blue-eye who wore a sequinned cape and arrived ringside draped in the national flag to the sound of We Shall Not Be Moved over the sound system. Big Daddy was, as his name suggests, big. This led to an ungainliness in his movements, though Crabtree turned this to his advantage by developing signature movements such as the Big Splash, which involved him dropping his bulky body belly first onto a prostrate opponent – at which point he would encourage the crowd to shout “Easy. Easy”. Big Daddy’s career almost came to an end when he Big Splash-ed Mal “King Kong” Kirk during a bout, and Kirk died (the coroner absolved Crabtree of blame, pointing to Kirk’s serious heart condition). Crabtree took the death personally, but continued wrestling into his 60s, though he became increasingly a static presence, against which lighter, prettier wrestlers would hurl themselves to little effect.

 

 

 

The Wrestler (2008, dir: Darren Aronofsky)

A reminder that Mickey Rourke is an actor who operates outside the pantomime arena, when he wants to, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler is all about age, breakdown, decay and the everyday heroics necessary to just keep going. The fact that it stars Rourke, who famously abandoned acting to become a boxer, then returned to movies years later a collagen-lipped beat-up reminder of his former self, makes this film, at some level, the story of Rourke himself. And it’s a heartbreaker, the journey with the small-fry wrestler at the wrong end of his career, a tough guy with a heart of gold, a good word for everybody, a man who’s gone a bit deaf, works on the meat counter (nice touch) at a supermarket where he’s bossed about by a ballbusting dick, whose daughter hates him, whose lap-dancer girlfriend isn’t even really his girlfriend. It’s the insights into the wrestling game that make this film so powerful – the tanning salon, the hair extensions, the growth hormone and the painkillers, the eye-opening and eye-watering use of a staple gun. And Aronofsky and documentary cinematographer Maryse Alberti shoot it all arthouse – dark, handheld, grainy, many key scenes are so underlit you have to squint through the mood to work out what’s going on. As for plot – there isn’t much of one, we’re just following Randy “The Ram” Robinson from one indignity to the next, while he fumbles about trying to work out what to do with what’s left of his life now his career is over, or as good as over. Is it a metaphor for the baby boomers, more generally? It can be if you want it to be, though Aronofsky has learnt from some of the excess of earlier films (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) and plays it straight. He’s blessed to have Rourke, and to have Evan Rachel Wood as the estranged daughter, Marisa Tomei as the girlfriend who isn’t a girlfriend. And to have all those New Jersey locations, looking every bit as busted, chipped and beaten up as The Ram himself. As for Rourke, wait till you hear his “I’m an old broken down piece of meat speech”.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Should have been Rourke’s Oscar winner
  • Aronofsky’s best film – yes, better than Black Swan
  • Real insight into to how the theatrical world of wrestling works
  • Bruce Springsteen’s tender title song

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

The Wrestler – at Amazon