Dear Frankie

"Very Good"

Dear Frankie Review


Dear Frankie is a good movie stuck inside of a great story. Frankie is a nine-year-old boy (Jack McElhone) with one great joy in his life: corresponding with his father, a naval petty officer. The letters have defined and improved his life. Deaf, he barely speaks. In his letters he reads in a gentle, confident Scottish brogue. He devours books on marine life; a large map of his father's travels dominates his bedroom; and he declines fish with his chips. Though he's sick of moving, this town is different. It's by the sea.

In truth, Frankie's father is in Scotland, gravely ill. His life at sea was concocted by Frankie's mother, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer of Dirty Pretty Things), to keep the real, landlocked father out of their lives. We don't know much about Frankie's dad, only that he caused the boy's deafness and is so despicable that Lizzie, her mother, and Frankie raise stakes frequently to maintain their distance.

Lizzie's web of lies is meant to comfort her, as well as Frankie. "It's the only time I get to hear his voice," Lizzie says of Frankie's letters, every one of which she answers. The facade looks certain to crumble when Frankie's father's alleged ship -- Lizzie chose the boat from a stamp -- actually makes a visit to their town. Desperate to keep the dream alive for her son, Lizzie finds a rugged stranger (Gerard Butler, who looks like the 21st century version of the Old Spice man) to play the role of Frankie's dad for a weekend.

The story makes Dear Frankie riveting, and ironically, it is also the movie's biggest weakness. The machinations of the plot prohibit us from getting to really know the characters, outside of the role they play in this emotional tightrope of a scheme. Every other aspect -- from acting to cinematography -- is pared down in deference to the story. A movie like Dear Frankie needs more quiet moments where we see the characters apart from the chaos surrounding them. Without that, you're frequently reminded that the actors are just that: actors, and not real people.

And that's a shame, because the acting here is top notch, and the reason why we can overlook director Shona Auerbach's story-first tendencies. Mortimer is excellent, bringing a tired and determined charge to her performance, but she's attractive enough to give her interaction with the stranger a sexually awkward charge. As the man playing Frankie's "dad," Butler not only looks the part, but his warming toward the kid is legitimate and touching. McElhone, as the young Frankie, is very good in a challenging role. Even though he barely speaks, he delivers an understated, natural performance that is eerily reminiscent of so many kids who might be described as weird: He's stuck in a dream world, and is perfectly content staying there. His performance, along with AnnaSophia Robb's in Because of Winn-Dixie, should make it safe for us to watch children act in feature films. And that's something to really write home about.

The DVD includes deleted scenes, commentary track, and two featurettes.

His muttah was a muddah.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 105 mins

In Theaters: Friday 14th January 2005

Box Office USA: $1.3M

Distributed by: Miramax Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Fresh: 89 Rotten: 21

IMDB: 7.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Shona Auerbach

Producer:

Starring: as The Stranger, as Lizzie, as Marie, Katy Murphy as Miss MacKenzie, Sophie Main as Mädchen, as Nell, as Frankie

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