Leanne Waters

My Mother Frank (1999)

Runtime: 95 mins Rated: M

Written and Directed by.......Mark Lamprell

Category...............................Australian Feature Film / Drama

Genre...................................Comedy/Drama

Production Company...........Intrepid Films Pty Ltd

Producers.............................Phaedon Vass

Susan Vass

John Winter

Cinematographer..................Brian Breheny

Costume Designer................Edie Kurzer

Distributors...........................Beyond Films (Australia) and

Channel Four Films (Film Four International, United Kingdom)

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Film Information

The film is about a recently windowed 51year old mother
and grandmother called Frank. With her two children
grown up, it is the first time that Frank finds that she has
no real purpose in life. She eventually decides to attend
university as a mature age student. The university is the
same one attended by her son David. This becomes
problematic for David, who already having felt smothered
by his mother at home, he now finds his own territory being
invaded. Subsequently, mother and son have to find a new
way of relating and communicating.


Cast


Sinead Cusack......................Frank
(Frances Regina Aileen Nano Kennedy)

Sam Neill..............................Professor Mortlock

Mathew Newton...................David Kennedy

Rose Byrne...........................Jenny

Sacha Horler.........................Margaret Kennedy

Celia Ireland.........................Peggy

Lynette Curran......................Jean

Melissa Jaffer........................Sister Sebastian

Joan Lord...............................Sister Bernadette

Nicholas Bishop.....................Mick

Deborah Kennedy...................Receptionist

Haley McElhinney..................Francine

Annie Byron...........................Eunice

Pamela Hawken......................Marcia

Brendan Higgins.....................Doctor



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Director Filmography

My Mother Frank (2000) is Mark Lamprell's first feature film. Although,
he has previously worked on major film productions such as Babe (1995)
and Contact (1997).



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Release Date: 17 August, 2000

Video Release: 7 February, 2001
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Festivals: 2000

Berlin Film Festival: Selected to be shown. Festival organisers
called it 'a film that hugs you'.

Brisbane Film Festival: Voted Best Film

Sydney Film Festival: Closing Film

Montreal Film Festival

Temecula Film Festival

Melbourne Film Festival: Voted Best Film
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General Information

My Mother Frank was filmed in Sydney, NSW. The house
used as Frank's home in the film was, up until 1939, the
German Consulate. The former grand mansion became
the central location for the film, and can be found in the
upmarket waterside suburb of Elizabeth Bay. The other
main location for the film was the University of Sydney.
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Finance

Australian Film Finance Corporation,
Showtime Australia (Cable TV) and Channel 4, UK
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Box Office

Despite My Mother Frank's relative success at film festivals,
it was not successful at the Box Office. The film only appeared
for two weeks in the top twenty most popular films for that
specific period. In it's opening week it entered at number 18,
grossing $64,582. While in the second week, it came in at
number 17, grossing $45,655, before disappearing from the
charts. Besides being up against the traditional Hollywood genre
films, it was also in 'competition' with the Australian made film
Chopper (2000), which remain in fourth spot during this two
week period.

(Urban Cinefile: Bums on Seats, 21 and 28 August 2000)
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External Reviews:

Some examples of the mixed reviews the film received.

'Mark Lamprell's debut film My Mother Frank is a welcome addition
to this select group of successful comedies (Muriel's Wedding, The
Castle, The Road to Nhill, and Love Serenade), borrowing a little from
them all, and turning out something refreshing and original...'
...'Mark Lamprell creates a likeable film rich in humour and compassion
that pleases in an easy, generous way.'

Mark Freeman, 2000'Critical Eye', www.imdb.com, (accessed 13 April, 2002)

'This is pretty slim material, more the stuff of a telemovie than a feature.
The misleading title promises something sexually kinky, but instead we
get a rather bland tale of an over-protective mother's decision to enrol in
the same university as her son....The "disease of the week" plot is risible.'

David Stratton, 2000, www.sbs.com.au/movieshow_set.html
(accessed 14 April, 2002)

'...My Mother Frank is full of delightful surprises. It's quirky and
offbeat, with characters so vivid, they simply jump from the screen....
It's biting, funny, poignant and moving all at once.'

Louise Keller, 2000, 'Movie Reviews',
www.urbancinefile.com (accessed 13 April, 2002)


'My Mother Frank doesn't quite achieve the mix of comedy and pathos
it strives for but there's just enough here to warrant a look.'

Richard Kuipers, 2000, 'Movie Reviews',
www.unbancinefile.com (accessed 13 April, 2002)

'Mark Lamprell's film is a little like a cappuccino-frothy on the surface,
but with stronger stuff underneath. It's one of those gentle comedies we
Aussies do so well (think Proof and Death in Brunswick)...My Mother
Frank is an invigorating addition to this year's crop of Australian films.'

David Edwards, 2000, 'Movie Reviews'
www.urbancinefile.com (accessed 13 April, 2002)
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Bibliographical Details

Plenty of incidental information is available about this film online. But
as the film is a minor Australian film, and relatively new, there appears
that there are no journal articles or general articles written about it. The
majority of information came from the following sources:

Cinema Papers Vol 134

http://www.mymotherfrank.com

http://www.imdb.com

http://www.urbancinefile.com

http://www.sbsmovieshow.com

http://www.afc.gov.au

http://www.movieguide.com.au

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Critical Review


The Australian feature film My Mother Frank was produced in 2000.
The lead character is a fifty-one year old, white, widowed, middle age, middle-class, Catholic, female called Frank (Sinead Cusack). The plot revolves around her decision to start university. As the mother of two grown children, she has arrived at the stage of her life where she feels she is redundant. However, she does continue to play an active role in the Catholic Church, by attending and doing charity work. But she increasingly finds this offers very little challenge or satisfaction. Although she still has one child living at home she has ended up becoming 'overprotective' and 'interfering'. So when her son David (Matthew Newton) tells her to leave him alone and get her own life, she eventually does just that. This situation provides the momentum for the story to unfold. As she ends up attending the same university as her son. This situation becomes the main storyline, as these two characters must find a new way of interacting and communicating with each other.

Several other main themes/storylines interact in the plot and contribute to the outcome of the film. David's romantic life is an important theme in the film. Throughout the film, David is having romantic feelings and fantasies about his best friend's, under appreciated, girlfriend Jenny (Rose Byrne). The film examines the problems that arise concerning love and loyalty between friends and lovers. Although David eventually succeeds in 'getting the girl'. This outcome was only as a result of the help and advice that his mother gives him.

While Frank's experience as a mature age student is also one of the main themes of the film. She finds adjusting to university life and the new expectations placed on her to be problematic. She also comes into conflict with her lecturer/tutor, Professor Mortlock (Sam Neill). Again the narrative examines the problems that a mature age woman might encounter returning to education after a significant time away. These problems are resolved by the end of the film. As Frank eventually makes new friends and settles into her new life.

Of a more dramatic nature, and is debatable as to its significance in the plot, is when Frank is diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Although this essentially is only a minor issue in the film, it does contribute to David appreciating and communicating with his mother on a more successful and rewarding level. However, Frank being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, is not something that the film deals with on a social probablization level. It is left nearly entirely as an issue that Frank will have to deal with in the future.

Overall, this quite unique Australian film seems to have been underrated and overlooked. ,despite receiving some positive reviews. Perhaps having a disease associated with it put many people off viewing the film. But, as I have suggested, the fact that Frank is diagnosed with Alzheimer's is only a quite minor theme in the film. It is about so much more. For example, it deals with the mid-life crisis of a female, the growing pains of a teenager, young love and a generational gap. It has some very funny scenes, many that are entirely unexpected and 'original'. While at the same time the film manages to deal convincingly, although superficially, with serious modern issues. Such as single parenting, health issues, the role of religion in contemporary society, adult education, and cultural diversity.

The director of the film Mark Lamprell also wrote the script. This film was his directorial debut. Lamprell originally came up with the idea for script about ten years before the film was actually made. This was due to the problems associated with securing the finance to produce the film. The producers of the film argue that this delay had a positive outcome. In that it enabled Lamprell to continually make improvements on the script. This resulted in Lamprell having a clear vision about the film, and the end result. They suggest that the delay also encouraged and contributed to the film's extensive character development. As the writer, Lamprell was strongly influenced by his Irish Catholic background. He suggests that this background provided him with a 'fertile ground to find and tell stories'.

But what makes this film somewhat exceptional, in comparison to other Australian films, is not so much the plot, which I will suggest is, at times, fairly ordinary. It is the way the film's stylistic approach becomes a very important aspect in the development of the narrative. My Mother Frank is somewhat unusual because of the imaginative way Lamprell, and cinematographer Brian Breheny, have used bright and bold colours to communicate meaning throughout the film. For example, to convey a sense of kinship, the main characters were required to dye their hair red. While other characters and support cast, wore distinct clothing, which distinguishes their part in the narrative. A further example, is the representation of students attending the University. They were required to wear bright colourful costumes (costume designer Edie Kurzer) that were then contrasted with the old dark buildings of the university. Furthermore, the students themselves are represented as being racially diverse, which also adds 'colour', and thus creates a contrasting background to the white cast. Lamprell argues that he wanted to create a film that was 'attentive to detail but slightly above time and space with a mythical tone and feel to it...a story about archetypes resonating through time and culture.' The film does succeed in achieving a somewhat mythical and magical look about it. This is why the film is so much more than the narrative would at first suggest.

The critical reception of this film varied, quite considerably. But overall, the limited reviews for this film were generally quite positive. For example, Richard Kuipers argues the film 'doesn't quite achieve the mix of comedy and pathos it strives for but there's just enough here to warrant a look.' While, Louise Keller suggests the film '...is full of delightful surprises. It's quirky and offbeat with characters so vivid they simply jump from the screen.' Alternatively, one of Australia's arguably more influential critics, David Stratton from the Movie Show on SBS, seemingly could not get past the fact a disease was a theme in the film. He suggests that My Mother Frank was more like a made for TV ' disease of the week' film, rather than a feature film, calling it a 'bland tale'. A review by Sarah Thomas in 'Cinema Papers' perhaps sums up the general reception of the film from a critical and audience point of view. She argues; My Mother Frank 'is a quaintly original but ultimately insignificant piece of film'. She suggests that the narrative is somewhat chaotic, but, if the audience can ignore 'the distractions...My Mother Frank morphs into a pleasantly enjoyable film...' Also several critics at the time compared the plot to the film Educating Rita. Others also thought My Mother Frank was comparable to other successful Australian films such as, Muriel's Wedding and Strictly Ballroom, that it had the same mixture of comedy and drama, and interesting characters. But, despite these generally positive reviews, the film failed to make much of an impact at the time of it's release.


Although I am unable to find or locate the production budget for My Mother Frank, or the overall box office figures. To give some idea of it's impact at the box office, the film was listed in the top twenty films (17th and 18th) for the following two weeks after its release. It took in slightly over $100,000 in box office receipts during this period. The film was up against another Australian film Chopper, in a list otherwise made up entirely of Hollywood films. The film Chopper, over the same period did exceptionally well, as comparisons show, it took nearly one million dollars during the same time frame.

This would have been quite disappointing for the film's producers. As earlier critical success at several film festivals, was followed by the lack of general attendance or interest by audiences in Australia. The film had received accolades at the Melbourne and Brisbane (voted Best Film at both) and Sydney Film Festivals. It also was selected to be shown at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it also received positive reviews.

My Mother Frank was financed jointly by the Australian Film Finance Corporation (AFFC), Showtime Australia (Cable TV) and Channel 4 (United Kingdom). The criteria (and objective of AFFC) for AFFC finance is as followed: ' to recognise and support originality and creative risk taking in the development and production of outstanding Australian film....'. The film clearly meets these guidelines, probably more so for it's stylistic approach rather than the storyline. Although, the AFFC did not agree to invest in the film until after the producers had acquired some positive interest from Showtime and Channel 4. It was not until the distributor Beyond Films took on the rights for world sales, that the AFFC agreed to fund the film. While the figures are not available for the film financial budget, producer Phaedon Vass acknowledges that with 'productions in our budget range, we don't have a lot of resources to throw at problems and we worked really hard to achieve a big screen look'. This suggests the film had a relatively low budget when compared to Australian 'blockbuster' film financing.

Despite the disappointing performance and reception of the film itself. There was some quite positive critical feedback on the director and the main stars of the film. Overall there seems to be a certain amount of agreement that for Mark Lamprell's first feature film, My Mother Frank was a success. As Sarah Thomas from 'Cinema Papers' argues, '...for an attempt at a first feature My Mother Frank is indeed impressive. We wait with hopeful anticipation for Lamprell's next offering'. This seems to confirm that Lamprell has a promising future as an Australian feature film director.

Lamprell's choice of Irish actress Sinead Cusack to star in an Australian film is indicative of international film funding. Lamprell auditioned for an actress to play Frank in London. He says the moment he saw Cusack he knew she was the right person to play the lead role of Frank. Cusack began her career as a Shakesperian and theatre actress. Some of her previous and most recent film roles have included the Hollywood films Stealing Beauty (1996), Passion of Mind (2000) and the British film French and Saunders Live (2000). Lamprell also considered that he was extremely lucky to get Sam Neill to agree to play the part of Professor Mortlock. Neill's previous and very extensive film career has included Australian made films such as Dead Calm, (1989), The Piano (1993, AFC Financed), Sirens (1994) and more recently The Dish (2001). While his Hollywood career has included Jurassic Park (1993), Bi-centenial Man (1999) and Jurassic Park 3 (2001). Despite the presence of these two internationally known actors, the film still fail to draw in an audience.

The younger actors Matthew Newton and Rose Byrne were essentuially newcomers to the film business. Both received positive reviews for their portrayal of David and Jenny. Newton has only been in one previous Australian film, Looking for Alibrandi (2000). While Byrne has had roles in the Australian television series Heartbreak High and the Australian film Two Hands (2000), and the Australian/French co-production The Goddess of 1967 (2001). Byrne is currently (2002) working on the Hollywood blockbuster Star Wars: Episode Two.

The cinematographer on the film, Brian Breheny (aka Brian J Breheny) has previously worked on such Australian films as Siam Sunset (1999), Dear Claudia (1998), and the internationally acclaimed film The Adventures of Pricilla: Queen of the Desert (1994), for which he won an AFI award for 'Best Achievement in Cinematography'. Unfortunately little other information seems to be avaliable on Breheny. However, since his work on My Mother Frank he has been involved in the production of Otherside of Heaven (2001) and Hard Word (2002).


Overall, this film is a good example of Australians producing a high quality film within a conservative budget range. Despite its 'poor' performance at the box-office, arguably because of competition with the dominant Hollywood film industry, this is not necessary a reflection of the film itself. This film, like most other Australian films with a modest budget, found it virtually impossible to compete with bigger advertising budgets of Hollywood films. It has therefore had to rely on local and international sales to be seen, and to make a profit. Hence the importance of film festival screenings as a way to exhibit the film to potential buyers. Locally, the film as been sold to Network Ten Australia for television viewing. And because of the production investment from Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, the film will be accessible for viewing to a wider international audience. Also, through the distributor Beyond Films, My Mother Frank has been sold to Spain, Portugal, South Korea, Italy, Iceland and the Czech Republic. Investment from Showtime in the production of the film will, no doubt ensure it's release on cable television. Adding to these outlets, is the video market (distributor: Bona Vista), which will also create opportunities for the film to reach a quite extensive audience. Arguably, much more than was ever achieved at the cinema release of the film.

My Mother Frank is indicative of Australian films made since the early 1990s. Whereby, international finance arrangements, and subsequent overseas sales are necessary for the survival and production of Australian films. Due to these factors, film texts are developed that are accessible to an international audience.And based on the sales information, (for this particular film) this does not exclude non-English speaking countries. Although, My Mother Frank uses Australian locations, an Australian director and production crew, the narrative is universal in many ways. As many of the issues that are developed in this film, are not culturally exclusive. Australian's making Australian films is important, not only locally, but because it encourages an international recognition of the commonality of experiences with other cultures. Importantly, it also challenges the international domination of Hollywood. Arguably, this would have been an important consideration for well known actor Sam Neill. Where his participation in My Mother Frank, would have, no doubt, been far less financially rewarding than appearing in a Hollywood film. But despite the film not being a 'Box Office hit', it will, nevertheless, still reach a wide audience. Therefore, this film should been seen as a quality contribution to an Australian cinematic landscape, not as a failed feature film.

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