Three Rivers Film Fest continues its mix of fact and fiction

Category: Dear Frankie News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: November 12, 2004 | Publication: Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh) | Author: Barbara Vancheri, staff writer
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The Three Rivers Film Festival continues this weekend. Here are capsule reviews of some of the films showing:

'Dear Frankie'

"Dear Frankie" is a wee charmer of a movie.

The boy of the title is a 9-year-old (Jack McElhone) who is frequently on the move with his secretive mom, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), and her chain-smoking mother (Mary Riggans). As the movie opens, the threesome relocate to yet another apartment, and Frankie enrolls at a new school in Glasgow.

As Lizzie explains to Frankie's teacher, he is deaf, but "there's nothing wrong with his brain, and he's a champion lip reader." He's also a champion letter writer, penning missives to his absent father, who supposedly is on a ship traveling to exotic ports of call.

Frankie, who charts the travels on a world map tacked to his bedroom wall, hasn't seen his father in years. Early on, we learn that Lizzie is intercepting the letters and responding as her husband. The subterfuge is on the verge of collapse, and Lizzie must decide how to protect Frankie and herself from further heartache, even as she's getting comfortable with a part-time job and a shopkeeper friend.

What happens next is the sort of thing that only occurs in the movies, although we come to understand why the peripatetic Lizzie has wrapped herself and her son in a protective cocoon. Just when you think you know where it's heading, it takes a gentle or sharp turn or two down an unexpected path.

Young McElhone is an unmannered, natural actor whose character rarely speaks and must convey his emotions and thoughts with his eyes and body language. The picture belongs to him and to Mortimer (an insecure actress in "Lovely & Amazing"), a woman who lives as if on high alert, always looking over her shoulder and ready to pack up and bolt, if necessary.

"Dear Frankie," directed by Shona Auerbach and also starring Sharon Small and Gerard Butler, leads with its heart. Some moviegoers might find that manipulative, others will warm to the approach. I fall into the second, appreciative category.