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Movie review: ‘Francine’ is a study in animal love gone astray

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In “Francine,” Oscar-winner Melissa Leo plays a woman struggling to reestablish her sense of self after being released from prison. Unable and somewhat unwilling to connect with others, she seeks solace instead in animals.

Bouncing from a job in a pet shop to working in a veterinary clinic, Francine begins hoarding animals at home, building a menagerie she can’t properly care for. Filmmakers Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky focus closely on Leo’s title character, leaving supporting characters on the periphery of her world.

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The film achieves unexpected moments of grace when Francine slips outside of herself, when she’s swept away by the music of a metal band playing outdoors or when she becomes lost in a furtive bathroom hook-up.

Leo remains an eminently watchable and compelling actress, though her performance here feels in some ways more like an exercise than a portrait. Her go-to hard-scrabble persona is starting to read less convincing the more often it’s seen.

“Francine” is a small, detailed character study that never evolves into anything more.

mark.olsen@latimes.com

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‘Francine’

No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes

Playing: At Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood


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