You're familiar with the stereotype of the crazy middle-aged lady with fourteen cats or the hoarder who keeps more pets than she can count. Academy Award-winning actress Melissa Leo plays just such a woman, sans stereotypes, in the new movie Francine, opening September 12.
Award-winning documentary filmmakers Brian Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky (The Patron Saints, Fish Kill Flea) make their fiction debut with Francine. After serving time in prison, Francine (Leo) settles down in a small lakeside town and takes a series of jobs working with animals. Self-destructive and all but mute, Francine turns to animals for emotional support, a path that ultimately leads to her downfall.
Leo gives a haunting performance in the leading role. Francine takes in animals until her small house is full of them, and though loved, they’re badly cared for: to feed them, Francine walks through her house, scattering handfuls of kibble on the floors while cooing, “Breakfast!” In the hands of another actress, Francine could have been a Hoarders caricature, but Leo turns her into a raw, fragile woman who’s too real to be mocked.
Although the film is stunningly acted and beautifully shot (nature shots full of water lilies abound), Francine doesn’t tell much of a story. We never learn why Francine was in prison, how long she was there, how many animals she has, where they all came from, or even where and when the film takes place. By the end of the film, we have learned to anticipate Francine’s actions, but we’re no closer to understanding what drives her.
Though the camera occasionally takes us close to Francine – zooming in on her face as she nuzzles a newborn kitten or fucks a stranger in a dirty bathroom – we’re held at an emotional distance, similar to the way Francine interacts with her fellow human beings. At best, Francine may haunt or captivate us, but it never connects. If you see it, see it for Leo’s performance, but don’t expect to fall in love with Francine.
Francine opens on September 12 with a theatrical run at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, with a national rollout to follow.
Photos from pigeonprojects.com and Francine's Facebook page.