Andrew Renzi nearly nails his feature debut with an outstanding performance from Richard Gere, but when the main character’s quest for redemption gives way to his addiction, the film loses sight of what put him in that position to begin with.
Gere leads Franny as the title character, an extremely wealthy philanthropist supporting a children’s hospital. Since the sudden and tragic death of his closest friends, Mia and Bobby (Cheryl Hines and Dylan Baker), Franny’s become a bit of a hermit, holing up in a stunning hotel and drowning his sorrows in a drug addiction. However, when his friends’ daughter Olivia (Dakota Fanning) comes back to town, Franny becomes obsessed with righting his wrongs and recreating what he had with her parents.
Gere absolutely commands the screen as Franny from start to finish. There’s definitely something a bit suspect about his relationship with Mia, Bobby and Olivia, but he exudes warmth and confidence, making him absolutely enchanting. Even after tragedy strikes and we find Franny completely unkempt in a messy mansion, he’s still got this undeniable charm to him, something that conveys that he’s a powerful man who cares even though he’s also clearly very unhinged. It’s a vast range to maintain, but Gere manages to go from one end of the spectrum to the other and back again seamlessly.
When Olivia returns and brings her beau Luke (Theo James) with her, they delicately shed even more light on Franny’s situation. Both highlight that Franny is in need of companionship and support, but in two completely different ways. Franny genuinely cares for Olivia, but also feels the need to give her everything under the sun to make up for the loss of her parents. That generosity extends to Luke as well, but in his case, there are strings attached.
Luke’s got a far more dynamic relationship with Franny. He doesn’t owe Franny anything nor does he want to, but who can turn down a house and a dream job, especially when Olivia is pregnant? He wants to say no and every so often he has to, but at the same time, he knows he can’t jeopardize his family’s future. Luke doesn’t just take, take, take until he hits a formulaic turning point that kicks off the third act of the film. He assesses each situation individually, makes thoughtful decisions and then reassesses when another challenge presents itself. It’s an evolving situation that encourages you to consider what you might do in his position.
Fanning’s character, on the other hand, has a completely one-note approach to Franny’s antics. Most of her thoughts and decisions regarding his behavior are driven by the fact that he’s practically family, but rather than sell that as a genuine love for and dedication to Franny that could possibly cause a rift between her and Luke, it comes across as passivity, which keeps Olivia from being very interesting. Renzi also has trouble paving the way towards Franny’s third act meltdown. It’s clear that he suffers from substance abuse early on, but his desperate attempt to track down more hydromorphone feels like it comes from a different movie. It’s a turnaround that takes the character from generous yet misguided to completely out of control far too abruptly to be able identify and understand what sparked the collapse beyond an empty bottle.
Renzi definitely stumbles across the finish line here, but not before helping Gere create an unforgettably charming and fascinatingly flawed character. Franny isn’t the deep, insightful character study it could have been, but it’s still a touching and entertaining film that showcases quality work from Gere, and James as well.
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