Isabelle Huppert Brendan Gleeson Marisa Tomei Greg Kinnear Jeremie Renier
This is a sad story in many ways—not agonizingly so—but sorrowful and melancholic. Frankie, or rather Francoise Cremant, is a successful film star with many admirers (played by the inimitable Huppert). She has an occasion to invite her complex family group for a vacation in the resort town of Sentra, Portugal, with striking views of the sea, the sky, hillsides, and the village—everywhere the eye turns. But this is in sharp contrast with the lack of intimacy and veiled feelings of disquiet that permeate the group, some wrestling with relationships, some with illness, some with other kinds of dissatisfaction.
Frankie is there with her second husband Jimmie (Gleeson) who clearly adores her, but she is somewhat ephemeral and drifts off from time to time for solo walks. They never seem to have a conversation of substance. Her current primary aim is to find a mate for her son Paul (Renier), who is moving to New York. So she has the not so subtle idea of inviting her good friend Ilene (Tomei) to come as well. She lives in New York (she has been Frankie’s hairdresser for a number of movies, and they’ve become good friends), and she thinks she is helping Paul by introducing him to Ilene. Paul is not pleased, and has the only outburst in this mostly agonizingly quiet gathering. Unbeknownst to Frankie beforehand, Ilene has brought her friend Gary (Kinnear) with her.
In addition to these guests, Jimmie’s daughter has also arrived with her husband and daughter. And Frankie’s first husband Michel (Paul’s father) is present as well.
The whole entourage is a bit like a tour bus of travelers passing through, exchanging pleasantries, meeting and chatting on street corners or joining in walks together. There are occasional arguments between a couple in their room, but at no time do we see the whole family all together enjoying a meal or sharing experiences. There are only little groups of two or three, in which a conversation of depth or of personal importance might get started, but then trails off.
Frankie has hopes that this reunion—which could be their last—will be congenial and close. But it’s clear to the observer that their connections have never been freewheeling and intimate, where significant events are discussed and worked through. So we get the impression the family’s typical ways of coping with major life events will be repeated here Interestingly, the structure and dynamics of the film seem to be derived from the kind of family director Ira Sachs and his co-writer Mauricio Zacharias have created. As a consequence, we never learn enough about the characters to really know them and care about them. Each vignette about a couple/family/individual is just a snippet so short we can’t possibly get an idea of who they are. Similarly, drama and deep emotional concerns are never allowed to surface.
Visually, this is a gorgeous film, but it lacks real human warmth and understanding. The icon Huppert cannot compensate for a limpid script.