Richard Gere delivers a late career highlight in Franny, an emotionally complex drama from debut director Andrew Renzi. Review by Alan Laidlaw at Edinburgh International Film Festival
During his long and successful career, Richard Gere hasn’t strayed too far from a character formula that – regardless of how you may feel about him – he’s perfected to the point where his performances have near-mechanical assuredness. A creased smile here, a knowing wink there; he’s an actor who knows his own powers of seduction and has no problem underscoring them at any given opportunity.
But if you’ve come into Franny expecting that type of role then you’ll be sorely disappointed. Perhaps his character might have required such a performance in the years leading up to the time when the film takes place, but there’s too much loss and grief behind the eyes of Franny to exhibit Gere’s ubiquitous charm.
The opening scene hits you with a powerful blow – literally – as a vehicle comes colliding into the side of the car which has Franny, his best friend and his friend’s wife inside. Franny is the only survivor of the accident and five years later, bearded, drugged up and sporting a cane, he still blames himself for what has happened.
When Franny’s best friend’s daughter (Dakota Fanning) who has always looked up to him, suddenly phones – announcing that she is pregnant, married and coming back to the place where she grow up – he sees this as an opportunity to put the guilt to rest.
And Franny – who has a multi-million fortune – wastes no time in attempting to make up for the past: he gets the husband a job working at one of his hospitals; he buys the house that her parents were supposed to move into and, without thinking twice about it, pays off all the debt that they have. But as he soon realises that these gestures aren’t really what the couple needs most.
Director Andrew Renzi does a fine job in making Franny a more complex drama than it ought to be. Between Renzi and Gere, the character of Franny is fully fleshed: in public he’s an ostentatious and theatrical social impresario whose gestures are lined with an overly-indulgent kitschness, but in the quietude of his grand abode we’re shown an all-consuming grief that threatens to boil over into his public persona.
It’s this spectrum of personality, along with some nuanced and considered cinematography, which saves Franny from being a stodgy, overly-sentimental drama and turns it into something that not only exceeds expectations but reveals a layering of emotions and implications that you’d expect from a director with decades of experience – not one making his feature length debut.
He does however have a penchant for the melodramatic which rears its ungainly head every so often, as annoying and intrusive soundtrack choices bleed their way into moments that require no emotional coercion. It’s perhaps a sign of trying a little too hard but Renzi has plenty of capacity for evoking emotion on his own without the need for cheap tricks and affected moments.
Franny is the most oddly engaging of character studies; it shows a subject who is annoying, insensitive and overtly manipulative – yet in every morally questionable decision that Franny makes, there’s the hint of a person screaming from the inside, out – wishing someone would love and accept him like his dearly departed friend.
Money can’t buy you happiness, and, as we can learn from Franny, giving it away doesn’t make you a better person either.