Her ship comes in and a sexy stranger plays dad to her lad

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: March 4, 2005 | Publication: The San Francisco Chronicle | Author: Ruthe Stein
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Lizzie, a single mom desperate for a man in the deeply moving domestic
drama "Dear Frankie," anxiously scans the faces of every male at a
Glasgow pub. As Lizzie, Emily Mortimer uses her dark, expressive eyes to
register dismay at a bland balding patron followed by relief when a
female companion joins him.

Lizzie's fretfulness will be familiar to anyone who's ever waited for a
blind date. But romance isn't on her agenda, even after she looks up to
find a hunk in a black leather jacket calling her name.

Paced like a European film, "Dear Frankie" takes time weaving its magic.
The first half establishes why Lizzie is at that pub waiting for a
stranger who has agreed to pose as the father of her deaf son.

Lizzie, her 9-year-old, Frankie (Jack McElhone), and gruff chain-
smoking mother are hiding out from the boy's dad for reasons that become
clear later on. The family's vulnerability is as palpable as their love
for one another -- they're held together by a network of secrets and
lies. The real whopper, which Lizzie has been telling Frankie for as
long as he can remember, is that his father is a sailor traveling the
high seas and therefore unavailable for soccer matches and other
male-bonding experiences. When Frankie writes to him in care of a bogus
ship made up by Lizzie, she answers his letters herself. In one of many
touching moments, she admits to keeping up the ruse because their
correspondence is the only way she can hear her son's voice.

The jig appears to be up when the ship turns out to exist and will be
sailing into Glasgow in a few days. Enter "the stranger," as he is
called. Maybe one of these days, Gerard Butler, who takes on this role
after "The Phantom of the Opera," will be given a name in a movie.
Butler has Russell Crowe's rough-and-tumble manly appeal but is far
better looking, especially without half his face covered by a mask. He's
completely mesmerizing whether befriending Frankie or showing affection
for Lizzie, who is slow to acknowledge her craving for it.

There's a tantalizing moment when she and her tall, dark and handsome
stranger are on the verge of kissing. Their lips are within inches of
touching for what seems like ages. Director Shona Auerbach doesn't rush
anything in her remarkably accomplished first feature film.

Auerbach has resurrected Butler's career, buried in the catacombs of a
Parisian opera house, and gotten an unforgettable performance from
Mortimer. While her potential was apparent in supporting roles in
"Lovely & Amazing" and "Bright Young Things," "Dear Frankie" firmly
establishes Mortimer as a leading lady. Jack McElhone seems to be a
natural, the kind of child actor you can't wait to have grow up to see
what he'll be able to do then. Unable to speak his lines, McElhone uses
facial expressions to communicate Frankie's range of feelings from
loneliness to joy over simple things like a stamp collection. The
growing trust he feels in the stranger who saunters into their lives is
heartbreaking because of the fear he could leave at any moment.

As much as anything, "Dear Frankie" is about believing in other people
and their capacity to care. That belief may not always be warranted. But
as this wise and wondrous film affirms it's worth the risk.

-- Advisory: This film contains mildly suggestive sexual material.