Frank and Ava (2018)
“Most people try to hide their drunkenness” Ava Gardner (Emily Low) advises Frank Sinatra (Rico Simonini) as he practices lines, “by slowing down their speech and over-enunciating everything they say”. It is a technique both actors employ in an early scene that has them careening down a highway in an alcoholic stupor. Regrettably, the actors continue to adhere to the instruction for every scene thereafter, even when their characters are stone-cold sober.
Frank Sinatra is at a low point of his career. A series of scandals involving his constant philandering and public brawling has seen the once idol of the bobby-soxers being derided as 119 lbs of has-been. To complicate matters, he’s fallen hard for actress Ava Gardner, who can more than match the crooner when it comes to such improprieties. Yet an upcoming role in a WWII film may just provide the means for a comeback.
There are a surprising number of name-actors in this independently-produced biopic, none of whom are used to particularly good effect. The rest of the amateur cast portray well-known names from the era, but give the distinct impression of children playing grown-ups. The name-dropping continues when our battling love-birds bring up each other’s past, but such exposition is preferable to the meaningless flashbacks and long-winded monologues which appear to be a consequence of the story's origins as a two-character play.
The film ends with short interviews of people who briefly entered Frank and Ava’s orbit. Their contribution, from Shirley Jones’ “I bought all his records” to Bob Christopher’s “I smelt her perfume” are about as informative as anything in the film’s preceding 105 minutes.
Movie opens with the line -
Most of what you are about to see...
...is on the level.
and for the most part it is.
Biopic refers to many of Frank and Ava's films and includes a brief backstage scene of Mogambo (1953), yet the only recreation is Maggio's death scene in From Here to Eternity (1953).