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EIFF 2015 Review: Franny aka The Benefactor


Richard Gere takes the lead in writer-director Andrew Renzi's Franny - a picture that may initially feel like a middle of the road seriocomedy, but surprises with some heavyweight emotional blows thanks to a vulnerable leading turn from Gere.

Renzi's debut dramatic feature follows eccentric philanthropist Franny (Gere) as he encroaches on the life of young couple Luke (Theo James) and Olivia (Dakota Fanning) - Olivia being the daughter of his late best friends. However, Franny's battling his own problems in the form of an addiction to morphine - an addiction that jeopardises his relationship with Luke and Olivia.

You would be forgiven for expecting Franny to go in a certain quaintly amusing direction, as the quirky philanthropist devotes more and more of his (masses of) free time to visiting the young couple who begrudgingly accept his support. There's a perfectly serviceable tale of a lonely man attempting to fill the void of his best friends who were taken too soon, but fortunately Franny proves that it's not a one-note affair and strives for further emotional depth in its titular protagonist.

As Franny approaches its second act, Renzi's narrative reveals a trauma in its protagonist, evolving him from someone who was simply charming and a little intrusive to a man battling a drug addiction. This gives proceedings a much-welcomed kick into gear and allows Renzi to explore a further emotional complexity. The previously schmaltzy charming facade of Franny (we've already seen him lovingly refer to Olivia as pet-name 'Poodles' and belt out My Girl to a swaying crowd) is lifted to reveal a man hit by desperation and haunted by the past trauma of the fatal car accident which he arguable caused.

There are some outstanding moments of stripped back intensity in Gere's performance - notably as we are exposed to the desperate lengths to which he plummets. Pleading with a pharmacist (even attempting to trade in his extortionate watch), begging young doctor Luke to prescribe him with his fix, and even physically harming himself in order to get morphine. There is a certain Jekyll and Hyde quality in Gere's performance - switching behind Franny's schmoozing charm and flat-out angry and unpleasant desperation. Franny sits alongside Arbitrage's Robert Miller as one of his finest roles.

In chronicling Franny's breakdown, Renzi switches the tone of Franny from carefree joviality to unsettlingly tense. Scenes of Franny and Luke on a night out uneasily sway between playfulness and sinister as the pair indulge their vices - and end up teetering on the edge of a bridge - showcasing the allusions to Franny's darker side and his possible intentions for Luke. In capturing this, Renzi's direction has a stirring tension and enigmatic quality about it - we're never quite sure what is going on in the unsettled Franny's psyche.


Director: Andrew Renzi
Stars: Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning & Theo James

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