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We all have one: That old family friend who dotes on us shamelessly, buying us houses and paying off student loans, beaming whenever we enter a room. They’re the worst, right? Andrew Renzi explores the worrisome side of Uncle Warbucks in Franny, where Richard Gere plays a billionaire suffering addictions not just to morphine but to others’ attention and his own privilege. It’s easy to understand the actor’s interest in the part, in which charm, Gere’s bedrock asset, is a thin shell whose protection chips away painfully. But Renzi’s uneven script makes this a less sturdy vehicle than 2012’s Arbitrage, and a less marketable one given the absence of thriller elements that sustained that film’s character study. Still, there’s plenty here for Gere’s admirers to appreciate.
For five years, Gere’s Franny has been holed up in a luxury hotel, drinking cocktails of pain-killers he was originally prescribed after an accident that killed his two best friends and left him hobbled. Olivia (Dakota Fanning), the only child of those friends and a surrogate daughter to the bachelor, moved away to cope with her grief; when she returns to town an expectant mother and new bride, Franny leaps on the opportunity to feel alive again.
He immediately gets Olivia’s hunky-doctor husband Luke (Theo James) a job at the children’s hospital he built with her father; before the young man can even demonstrate his skills, Franny is lauding him at society events as if he were the returned spirit of the hospital’s founder. He gives the kind of speeches that leave listeners a tiny bit embarrassed, and the kind of gifts one can’t reject even if one wants to. In return, he bizarrely expects to be as intimately tied to this young couple as he was to Olivia’s parents, who’d been his best friends since college.
Gere has no problem understanding how Franny gets away with things. He casually plants Franny in Luke’s personal space, then speaks in a way that makes any discomfort “Lukie” might feel seem ridiculous. But the veil drops when we observe Franny at home, where his only friend is hydromorphone.
Renzi’s conception of the man’s oncoming collapse is sharp in some ways: for instance, how both of his crutches, drugs and the assumption that generosity buys love, fail him simultaneously. (While one doubts such a rich man would have much trouble finding narcotics when his doctor cuts him off, the smarmy desperation of his attempts is one of the film’s most compelling elements.) Similarly, Franny’s ability to be genuinely empathetic with a frightened child despite his trouble connecting with adults rings true.
But Renzi hits sour notes as well, like the use of on-the-nose old pop lyrics (“I’ve got sunshine…,” “the sun ain’t gonna shine…,” “the dark end of the street…”) as distracting indicators of Franny’s internal state. More problematic is the pacing of emotional ups and downs in the final act, where it becomes clear to everyone that Franny is an addict in need of rehab. In the end, fixing this likeable but deeply flawed man shouldn’t feel as simple as shaving off his beard.
Production companies: Celerity Pictures, TideRock Media, Treehouse Pictures, Follow Through Productions, Soaring Flight Productions, Andax Films, Magnolia Entertainment
Cast: Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning, Theo James, Clarke Peters, Dylan Baker, Cheryl Hines
Director-Screenwriter: Andrew Renzi
Producers: Kevin Turen, Jason Michael Berman, Jay Schuminsky, Thomas B. Fore
Executive producers: Michael Finley, Ruth Mutch, Walter Kortschak, Justin Nappi, Richard Loughran, Shelley Browning, Michael Diamond, George Paaswell, Andrew Corkin, John Friedberg, Mark Moran
Director of photography: Joe Anderson
Production designer: Ethan Tobman
Costume designer: Malgosia Turzanska
Editors: Dean C. Marcial, Matthew Rundell
Music: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Casting directors: Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee, Diane Heery
Sales: Deborah McIntosh, WME; Nick Ogiony, CAA
No rating, 92 minutes
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