With a title like “My Mother Frank,” you might expect a cross-dressing, transsexual, decidedly quirky Aussie film. But no. Mark Lamprell’s debut film is a decidedly modest, rather bland pic about a widow with a bad case of maternal love. A few mild chuckles and a couple of decent performances probably won’t be enough to get this off the ground theatrically, with the TV screen its natural home in most territories.
Frank Ryan (Sinead Cusack) is so-called because her name is Frances Regina Aileen Nano Kennedy. A devout Catholic who’s handling widowhood badly, she has two adult children and a couple of grandchildren by married daughter Margaret (Sacha Horler), but despite the constant ministrations of various friends, including a pair of elderly nuns, she’s bored with life. She’s also overprotective of her teen son, David (Matthew Newton), a student who’s hopelessly in love with pretty Jenny (Rose Byrne) — which isn’t a good idea because she’s the girlfriend of his best buddy, Mick (Nicholas Bishop).
When Frank decides to tackle an arts course at the same college her son is attending, David is unimpressed. And so is Professor Mortlock (Sam Neill), who disapproves of adult students because they take places away from the young. Frank studies hard, but is hit by a couple of setbacks, one when she’s accused of cheating and the other when she’s stricken with a serious illness.
Cusack gives a vigorous performance as the not entirely likable woman determined to kickstart her life, and she’s the strong center of this low-key film. Neill, with long hair, is given a rather dull role as the cranky professor who comes to admire Frank, while Newton and Byrne adequately portray the teen characters.
Lamprell, who collaborated with George Miller on the screenplay of “Babe: Pig in the City,” has come up with extremely slender material for his first film as director; in fact, “My Mother Frank” is more telepic than cinema feature, right down to its “disease of the week” development in the second half.
Technical credits are smooth down the line.