Alan Ball returns to screen with semi-autobiographical Uncle Frank

December 2, 2020 · By

Alan Ball may be best known for American Beauty (1999) and Six Feet Under, but he’s brought themes of repression and sexuality back in focus with his newest project, this time for Prime Video. Uncle Frank is a story about a college professor in 1973 New York City who is outed to his 18-year-old niece Beth when she makes a surprise visit to her uncle’s apartment.

From the start of the film the key relationship is between Southern Beth and her cool Uncle Frank. We see that Frank is unique in his family, a quiet outsider who is filled with wisdom for his niece, particularly telling her to be true to herself. Fast forward three years and Beth has moved to NYC for college and her family finally meets Frank’s girlfriend while dropping Beth off for school. When Beth discovers that her Uncle is having a party, she invites herself and discovers the girlfriend was a fake, meeting Walid (Wally), the Muslim lover who really lives with Frank, and learning something about the fellow classmate she brought along.

Outed, Frank brings Beth into his real world. But when tragedy strikes the family when the family patriarch dies, Beth and Frank must return to Creekville, South Carolina to deal with a family emergency. While the film is called a road trip movie, the journey south and complications along the way are only small parts of the larger premise. As the road trip unfolds and the pair near their destination, we get glimpses of Frank’s past and the demons that haunt him still. Those are obvious tropes that come back later in the plot, but serve the character well.

While the film in many ways starts with Beth’s story of her uncle, he takes over the story and comes to terms with his past with frightening consequences for his life and family. In the end it’s a beautiful story that feels appropriate for later decades. Brit Paul Bettany is wonderful as Uncle Frank, but he’s not the only strong actor constructing the story. Stephen Root, Peter Macdissi, Steve Zahn, Margo Martindale, Judy Greer, and Sophia Lillis round out an excellent cast, many of whom are Ball regulars.

Watch Uncle Frank on Prime Video