Dear Frankie Review

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: October 13, 2005 | Publication: Reel.Com | Author: GARY GOLDSTEIN
Publication/Article Link:http://www.reel.com

Expertly modulated and uncommonly touching, the Scottish drama Dear Frankie is a deep and delicate look at a young boy's need to believe and a mother's need to protect.

The titular Frankie (Jack McElhone) is a deaf, but upbeat nine-year-old living with his skittish, working-class mom, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), and wary, chain-smoking grandmother, Nell (Mary Riggans). They move around a lot, we eventually learn, to avoid Frankie's abusive, estranged father Davey, who Lizzie fears may one day track them down. Despite her hatred for Davey, Lizzie is a mother first and doesn't want Frankie to know the truth about the violent dad they fled years ago. To whitewash Davey's absence, she tells Frankie that his father's actually a seaman who travels the world on a port-hopping cargo ship called the Accra. Lizzie even encourages the boy to send Davey letters, which she then intercepts and promptly answers herself, spinning exotic tales of life at sea. Though Lizzie (and the disapproving Nell) knows this is a slippery slope, Frankie seems more than satisfied.

Things change, however, when it's reported that the actual Accra will soon be docking in Glasgow, and one of Frankie's needling classmates bets him that his father—if he's even on the ship—won't want to see him. Lizzie finds out and enlists the help of her waitress friend Marie (Sharon Small) to find a man she can hire to pose as Frankie's father for a day. If this device sounds plotty or disturbingly "high concept," it's not, particularly in director Shona Auerbach's gentle hands.

A broodingly handsome, seafaring-type (solidly played by Phantom of the Opera's Gerard Butler) soon shows up and Frankie finds himself with a way-acceptable dad. What follows is a weekend filled with simple father-son activities, that's infinitely memorable for Frankie—and later for Lizzie. This paternal "stand-in" impressively rises to the occasion, and Frankie's utter joy at finally having a living, breathing "da" in his midst is a sight to behold.

Dear Frankie concludes with a few twists that are both believable and satisfying, and help end the film on a buoyant note.

Andrea Gibb's superb screenplay makes smart choices throughout, carefully telling us what we need to know, as we need to know it. This quiet, measured approach draws us into the story's kindly secrets and lies and keeps us guessing just that extra bit. Gibb has also created an array of vivid, achingly real characters that are an actor's dream.

Jack McElhone's Frankie is one of the best child performances in recent memory, a winning combination of optimism and understatement. He utters only a few brief words in the film, but his sweet, expressive face speaks volumes throughout. Emily Mortimer, by turns tough and fragile, is equally fine as Lizzie, and Mary Riggans—a master of the withering stare—is wonderfully poignant as "Nana" Nell.

Dear Frankie is heartfelt moviemaking at its best.

The DVD's special features include a nine-minute set of seated interviews with the cast and filmmakers entitled "The Story of Dear Frankie." Interspersed with clips from the final film, it's mostly a "mutual admiration society" of everyone saying how great the other was to work with. But given the love with which the film was obviously put together, I believed every word of it (Emily Mortimer's giddy recollection of having to kiss hunky costar Gerard Butler 25 times before nailing the scene, was especially amusing).

The commentary by director Shona Auerbach focuses more on her emotional reactions to the film and the story than any great technical revelations. Her inner connection to the material is so strong, in fact, that it's clear to see how she was the perfect director for the project. With her calm, mellifluous, English accent, Auerbach presents an intelligent and sincere scene-by-scene look at the film that's both engaging and inspiring. She admits to drawing on a number of her own childhood experiences and feelings during the making of the movie, and seems greatly influenced by her own father, whose favorite quote helped suggest the film's beautiful closing shot of mother and son looking out to sea: "Love is not looking into each others' eyes, but is traveling in the same direction." Aside from a few interesting trivia tidbits (Jack McElhone, like his character Frankie, is really a vegetarian; Mary Riggins, whose Nell smokes like a chimney, hadn't herself smoked in 25 years and could only tolerate herbal cigarettes), it's the director's insight into portraying a deaf character that's most informative. A tremendous amount of care and research went into presenting Frankie as realistically as possible (down to him defiantly taking out his hearing aid, as so many deaf children do), and it shows.

The disc also includes a series of about 10 deleted scenes, some much briefer than others, that are mostly just extended versions of what ended up in the film. Two scenes in particular, though, might've made nice additions to the final cut—one in which Lizzie confesses the truth about Frankie's real father to friend Marie, and another in which Frankie watches his mother and the stranger dance. Both are quite moving, even out of context like this. Director's commentary is available for all the deleted scenes as well.

Finally, there's a filmed Q&A with director Auerbach, with each of a dozen or so questions flashed on screen before each of her answers. While some of the information has already been covered in the "Story of" piece, as well as in the commentaries, the gracious, prematurely gray Auerbach does provide some additional insight into Dear Frankie's hand-in-glove casting, the challenge to prove herself as a first-time director (she'd previously only directed a short), and her longtime collaboration with her camera operator husband (Auerbach also served as the film's director of photography). And, like Emily Mortimer, the kissing scene between Lizzie and the stranger was ultimately the director's favorite. That Butler fellow sure must have something....