Dear Frankie is a three-hankie family drama in which a bevy of fine actors, a keen-eyed director, and some wonderfully evocative Scottish locations work overtime trying to make Andrea Gibb’s script into something other than mawkish twaddle—and it comes pretty damn close to succeeding. Frankie (Jack McElhone) is a nine-year-old deaf boy whose mother and grandmother keep moving the three of them from one town to another. Frankie’s too young to really care why, he just knows that’s how it is, and as long as he keeps getting letters (and the rare stamps inside them for his collection) from his father, he doesn’t mind. Frankie’s never met the man, whom he believes is a sailor, but pours all his heart and soul into the stream of letters he sends in reply. It soon becomes clear that Frankie’s mother, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer, a wee too glam for the role, but nevermind) is making the whole thing up, writing the letters herself, his absent dad being the reason—exactly why only to be revealed at the appropriately dramatic time—their desperate little family keeps moving. It’s a charade that can’t be kept up forever, and so one day Frankie sees that his dad’s ship (at least, one with the same name that Lizzie gave him) is going to dock at the latest town they’ve moved to. Instead of owning up, Lizzie concocts a sitcom-elaborate scheme whereby she hires a nameless sailor to pretend to be Frankie’s dad. And, since this is a movie, not only does Frankie fall in love with the guy (played with Bogart-like quiet intensity by the normally-ill-used Gerard Butler), he finds his love reciprocated by the taciturn but slowly-thawing stranger. It’s all quite the dilemma for Lizzie, obsessed with keeping Frankie safe from the awful truth, but seemingly nothing that some soul-searching and a good long cry couldn’t handle. Although there is more naked emotional manhandling here than really should be proper, Dear Frankie comes out the other end with most of its dignity intact. This is mostly due to the solid work exhibited by everybody involved (especially first-time director Shona Auerbach, also responsible for the painterly cinematography), not to mention that the story surprisingly ends with a few key matters left realistically unresolved. Additionally, even as sentimental as the screenplay is, the film never speaks down to the child at its core, making him just as complex a character as any of the adults here. Heartwarming, but not entirely in a bad way.
- Shona Auerbach
- Andrea Gibb
- Emily Mortimer, Gerard Butler, Sharon Small, Jack McElhone, Mary Riggans, Jayd Johnson, Sean Brown
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