By Kirsten Coachman

It’s been such a great week of watching films and Q&As at this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival. There are some real gems to be found among the virtual offerings. Check out my latest roundup below.

Uncle Frank (2020) | Directed by Alan Ball

Beth (Sophia Lillis) has always admired her Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany). He escaped their small South Carolina hometown for New York City, brings her literature to read when he visits and offers to pose as her dad if she finds herself in a position that requires parental consent. Beth heads to NYU for college (class of ’76!), and, one evening, her uncle reveals to her that he’s gay and shares his apartment with his longtime partner Walid (Peter Macdissi). A death in the family sends Frank and Beth, along with an unexpected Wally, on a road trip back home, where Frank is confronted with a deep-seated trauma from his youth. Featuring a cast of familiar faces from Bettany and the always wonderful Margo Martindale to Judy Greer and Steve Zahn, Uncle Frank is a moving look at the dynamics of a family in 1973, processing grief, and acceptance–not just from family but of oneself. It’s a terrific second feature film from writer/director Allan Ball with a standout performance from Bettany that is sure to pull on audience’s heartstrings.

Sylvie’s Love (2020) | Directed by Eugene Ashe

Our next great onscreen love story has arrived. In the summer of 1957, Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha), an aspiring saxophone player, walks into Mr. Jay’s Records and crosses paths with Sylvie (Tessa Thompson), who’s behind the counter and has dreams of working in television. When Robert begins working at the shop, it isn’t soon before long that sparks begin to fly between the two. What unfolds is a sweet summer of “extraordinary” romance that is interrupted when the jazz band Robert plays with receives an offer to go to Paris. When they run into one another five years later, sparks still flicker even though Sylvie’s life has gone through a whirlwind of change. Sylvie’s Love evokes the magic of nostalgic romance films such as The Way We Were and The Notebook through tender storytelling by writer/director Eugene Ashe. Undeniable onscreen chemistry between Asomugha and Thompson makes the dreamy period piece truly sing.

Clouds (2020) | Directed by Justin Baldoni

Clouds is based on the inspiring story of Zach Sobiech, a good-natured high school senior living with a rare bone cancer, osteosarcoma, who is determined to get the most out of the life he has left. Zach (Fin Argus) falls in love with new girlfriend Amy (Madison Iseman) and chases his songwriting dream alongside his best friend Sammy (Sabrina Carpenter) with some help from their teacher, Mr. Weaver (an excellent Lil Rel Howery). The film also stars Scream queen Neve Campbell and Tom Everett Scott as Zach’s parents Laura and Rob. Directed by Justin Baldoni (Five Feet Apart), Clouds is ultimately an uplifting film, but at moments, it will absolutely break your heart. And make no mistake, you will be singing along with “Clouds” long after the movie ends. (Also, shout out to the nod at That Thing You Do!)

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