Frankie doesn’t get much of a vacation

B Drama
Written by Mauricio Zacharias & Ira Sachs
Directed by Ira Sachs

I’ve never been to Sintra, Portugal, but judging from this film, it’s a wonderful place for a vacation. But Frankie and her family and friends have a hard time being happy. The family matriarch has cancer and probably won’t survive the year.

Frankie comes from a long tradition of dramatic films about someone dying of cancer. It has a fantastically gifted cast, many of them playing interesting people, and all set in a beautiful location. But it’s really just another film about someone with cancer.

A lot of things die in Ira Sachs’ drama. Relationships and hopes, mostly. But it’s not entirely a downer. There is joy and love and understanding, as well.

Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) is a movie star, and before you sarcastically claim “Well, that’s a stretch,” I should tell you that she gives an excellent and subtle performance. She doesn’t yet look like someone with cancer, and though everyone in her party knows what’s happening, her fans and the industry do not. She hopes to die fast, and the last thing she wants to see is somebody pitying her.

The film is set over the course of a single day. But if all the days of this vacation are like this one, it’s a downer of a holiday. People talk a lot about the tragedies and the mistakes of their lives. No one falls in love (if you don’t include a teenage fling), but two couples end their relationships.

Frankie has brought a lot of people with her on this trip. There’s her husband, of course (Brendan Gleeson). But there’s also her gay ex-husband (Pascal Greggory). Her adult son is there, and Frankie worries that he won’t ever get his life together.

Then there’s her stepdaughter Sylvia (Vinette Robinson), who’s planning to run away from her overweight and over-sensitive husband (Ariyon Bakare). Sylvia has confided her plans to her teenage daughter Maya (Sennia Nanua), who seems to be the most mature person in the group. She spends most of the day at the beach, far away from her mixed-up family, where she experiences some puppy love with a boy she just met (the teenage fling mentioned above).

Marisa Tomei plays a friend of Frankie’s who happens to be in town. A Hollywood hairdresser, she’s currently working on the next Star Wars movie (she jokes about changing Chewbacca’s hairstyle). Greg Kinnear plays her boyfriend – a cameraman who wants to direct. He tries to get Frankie for his picture, not knowing that she won’t live long enough to make it.

Frankie opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center and the CinéArts at Palo Alto Square.