The tempestuous rollercoaster relationship of Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner was the hot stuff of the post-World War II tabloids ~ from the late 40’s to their marriage in 1951 (he was 35 and she was 28) and then to divorce in 1957.
Michael Oblowitz, a South African filmmaker with a prolific track record of avant garde hits and documentaries, has seized the torrid relationship as the centerpiece of FRANK & AVAand in so doing has also profiled a turbulent crossroads in American history.
The movie has some of the feel of film noir, capturing the sharp New York/New Jersey cadences of hot shots, tough guys, sexy dames, and mouthy gossip columnists, offset by a smooth jazz and pop song soundtrack. There’s also wit and a smack of caricature in the representation of the characters ~ a device teasingly suggested in an opening note: “Most of what you’re about to see…is on the level.”
Rico Simonini, who co-wrote the screenplay based on the play by Willard Manus, stars as Sinatra. A near look-alike (blue eyes and tightly sculpted face), Simonini is splendid as the crooner who stole the hearts of bobbysoxers and then spun out of fame in the wake of scandal and the rise of new singing stars like Perry Como and Eddie Fisher. His portrayal captures Sinatra’s contradictions and complexities. There’s the promiscuity and the blatant disregard for his wife Nancy and their children. The careless association with members of La Cosa Nostra. Then, there’s the love struck and romantic Sinatra, full of proclamations of endless love for Ava Gardner, but even then infidelity was not off limits.