I am not Frank.
However, I can't deny that I had a hard time not personalizing the story of Frank (Garrett M. Brown, television's Sisters), a middle-aged man with severe Tourette's Syndrome whose life is thrown into complete disarray when his longtime caregiver passes away. While it may seem in poor taste to wrap a coming-of-age comedy around a disability, rest assured that co-writer/director Dale Peterson has crafted an endearing, remarkably authentic and frequently funny film that takes a difficult subject and brings it to life in a wonderful and rewarding way.
As a middle-aged paraplegic/double amputee who lives independently but with what the "system" likes to call "natural supports," I resonated deeply with Frank's plight, a plight similar to what I've faced myself in the past couple years as my primary support person ended her life and threw mine into more than a little bit of physical chaos.
So, you may have to excuse me if this review cross that "line" that divides personal experiences and professional criticism. While I don't have Tourette's Syndrome, my own experiences unquestionably impacted my experience viewing Hello, My Name Is Frank.
Frank faces a scenario not uncommon for individuals with a variety of disabilities as they get older, the inevitable changing of their support systems and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. In Frank's case, he undoubtedly has independent living skills yet experiences severe enough tics and vocal outbursts that despite his repeated assurances that he'll be just fine alone it's perfectly clear that he won't. It's into this dilemma that Laura (Rachel DiPillo, Jane the Virgin), the soon to be high school graduate daughter of Frank's caregiver, arrives. Wrestling with her own grief, Laura claims the task of finding an appropriate new caretaker for Frank, a task she quickly finds isn't as simple as it sounds. With a long planned post-graduation trip with friends Alisa (Hayley Kiyoko, Insidious: Chapter 3 and Jem and the Holograms) and Kim (Mary Kate Wiles, The Sound and the Shadow) and with no apparent options in sight, the decision to take Frank along on a road trip that becomes a life-changing journey for everyone involved.
Hello, My Name Is Frank has been picked up by indie distributor Vision Films for a nationwide VOD release on May 17th, a release that has garnered the support of the Tourette Association of America who stated "We are proud to support projects such as Hello, My Name Is Frank. This film portrays Frank as an authentic, relatable character and helps the audience see the human being behind the Tourette."
Indeed, with his first feature film Peterson has crafted a winning tale, co-written with Margaret Kerrison and Christine Bartsch, that beautifully weaves together occasionally touching and occasionally quite funny moments in the life of a man facing difficult life changes. Garrett M. Brown portrays Frank with light humor and deep sensitivity, finding the humor in his situation yet never, not even for a single moment, laughing at him. It's easy to believe that Laura feels a deep connection to and responsibility for Frank, a sweet man whose cognitive awareness of his challenges is obvious and his heartwarming relatability undeniable. While one can always argue with these types of films that casting an actor with a similar challenge would have been a stroke of boldness, the truth is that Brown owns the part and makes it his own.
The film was cast by Risa Bramon Garcia, a Hollywood veteran casting director who has a knack for finding tremendous young, up-and-coming talent. She's hit a home run with this film. While the key players sure don't qualify as newcomers, they're definitely up-and-comers whose work here is worthy of notice. Rachel DiPillo is tremendous as Laura, a young woman whose caregiving seems genuine yet also seems to be masking an overwhelming sense of grief. If you watch DiPillo in some of the film's quieter scenes, you can't help but be in awe of her ability to find Laura's inner workings and achings. DiPillo serves up a heartwarming, genuine and funny performance that can't help but make you look forward to her future work.
I will confess that at one point I found myself contemplating the Sister Act films, films of simplicity and warmth and humor fronted by Whoopi Goldberg with priceless support by the rather outlandish Kathy Najimy and the quieter, endearing Wendy Makkena. In this film, the supporting players are Hayley Kiyoko, as the rebellious Alisa, and Mary Kate Wiles as the more reserved Kim, a conflicted young woman struggling to come to terms with the fundamentalist faith she's always known.
While being given a tad more to work with in terms of outward expression, Hayley Kiyoko does a wonderful job of not allowing Alisa to turn into a one-note caricature of rebellion. Kiyoko's Alisa is the kind of rebellious young woman whom you still look at and think "Yeah, she's going to be alright." It's a terrific performance. Tasked with portraying a more reserved character, Mary Kate Wiles made me fall for her just like I fell for that wonderful Wendy Makkena so many years ago. Wiles is in many ways the emotional core of Hello, My Name Is Frank, a young woman who serves up humor and heart with tremendous depth and insight. 1986 Academy Award nominee Tess Harper (Crimes of the Heart) makes a relatively brief yet winning appearance as Flossie, while Wayne Duvall (O Brother, Where Art Thou) is jarring as Preacher Alexander.
D.P. Tanner Wolfe lenses the film with tremendous insight and sensitivity and allows the camera to linger in just the right places to capture the stellar chemistry amongst cast members. The film also features a knockout soundtrack that far transcends that usually found in indie fare.
Hello, My Name Is Frank won the award for Best Dramatic Feature at the Manhattan Film Festival and is being released just in time for Tourette Awareness Month.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic