We know that Alan Ball, writer of “American Beauty” and creator of “Six Feet Under,” is interested in repressed homosexuality and death. Both are front and center in Ball’s “Uncle Frank,” set in North Carolina in the 1970s with Paul Bettany as the title character, an NYU college professor who is not out to his family but might have to come out when he returns home for his father’s funeral.
It’s told from the point of view of Frank’s teenage niece, Beth (Sophia Lillis), seemingly the most open-minded member of the family. The cast is great: Stephen Root as the father, Margo Martindale as Mammaw, Lois Smith as an elderly aunt, Steve Zahn and Judy Greer as Frank’s brother and sister-in-law. Bettany, in era-appropriate mustache and glasses, is effective conveying a wide range of delicate emotions.
Being a gay uncle myself, I’m qualified to say that the humor in Uncle Frank is sitcom-y, right down to Frank’s recruiting of a lesbian friend to play his girlfriend at a family get-together. The drama is the melo- kind — big and histrionic (Frank is a recovering alcoholic, and wait’ll you hear the reading of the will). But that said, if you want to make me cry, all you gotta do is show a family being supportive of their gay son/brother. I am but a man.
B- (1 hr., 35 min.; )