When Coming Out is Hard to Do: Two of Us and Uncle Frank

Hard to believe, but there still are a number of (mostly older) people who have not come out to the public. Reasons seem to abound, from living a private life to simply, not feeling as though an explanation is due to society.

When I heard of Two of Us through film festivals six months ago I almost laughed it off because it seemed through its premise to picture a comedy of errors in the style of In and Out and many more that have come before it. It just seemed to be dead in the water from the word go, and France has submitted many, more urgent, more relevant films — Petite Fille a clear example.

Filipo Meneghetti’s movie focuses on a pair of women who have been living across from each other as neighbors for the greater part of their lives. While they are clearly a couple, one of them, Martine (Madeleine Girard), has kept this part of her life a secret from Frederic and Anne (Jerome Varanfrain and Lea Drucker), her son and daughter. A turning point in which both Martine and Nina (the great Barbara Sukowa) decide that it’s time to enjoy retirement arrives, but complications ensue when Martine suffers a stroke and is rendered disabled.

Meneghetti constructs his film much like a thriller disguised in the form of a domestic drama waiting to unfold. He makes sure to let us in on the level of intimacy and love that exists between Nina and Martine, only to have fate cruelly snatch it away from their very hands at the last minute.

The movie then takes a left turn, with Nina at the helm, as she makes every attempt to be with her love. Nina crosses the line so many times throughout the movie it is near-impossible not to champion her, and Sukowa’s supremely intense, monomaniacal performance navigates the mudder aspects of what one will do for a loved one. If the movie takes a slight chance with the suspension of disbelief, it’s with turning Martine’s sons — particularly Anne — into villains. Even so, the Two of Us is quite a compelling watch, right down to its final, emotionally impacting scene.

Sophia Lillis, Paul Bettany, and Peter Macdissi in Uncle Frank

Somewhat more uplifting but no less traumatic is Alan Ball’s Uncle Frank. Ball’s movie tells the story of 18-year-old Beth Bledsoe (Sophia Lillis), who moves from her small Southern town to NYC in the early 70s to go to college and also be near to her Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany), whom she feels close to. Upon her arrival, she learns that he’s gay and in a relationship with Wallid (Peter Macdissi). Unfazed, the drama truly begins when Frank’s father and Beth’s grandfather (Stephen Root in a vicious role) suddenly dies, forcing Frank to take a trip down memory lane and slowly confront his past.

For the most part, Uncle Frank keeps things light, which plays in its favor. Trauma is a ghost that can never truly be healed, and Frank’s is no less hurtful and reflects the rejection experienced through the suffocating bonds of the family — in this case, the family patriarch. Bettany brings an equal measure of comedy and pathos to a man tormented by a horrible past that he has tried to distance himself away from, and his performance is anchored by Lillis in a strong, feminist role. The movie does lose a bit towards its resolution, choosing to avoid the pitfalls of Southern Gothic and instead of keeping it light and airy and anachronistically forward-thinking. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Two of Us: B; Uncle Frank: B