'Dear Frankie' is quietly inspiring

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: March 10, 2005 | Publication: USA TODAY | Author: Claudia Puig
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Dear Frankie is a sweet, life-affirming story of the sort that easily could easily get overlooked. Miramax Pictures, the distributor with an uncertain future, repeatedly rescheduled the movie's opening and seems to be giving it little marketing attention.

How unfortunate that such a lovely and humanistic film got caught in a Hollywood political struggle. It deserves to find an audience.

An intriguing character study, Dear Frankie unfolds at a leisurely pace, then surprises with key revelations. It is tender but not maudlin, and the three primary roles are well-acted.

Frankie (Jack McElhone) is a deaf 9-year-old. He is being raised by Lizzie, a single mother (Emily Mortimer) who is harried, slightly bitter but fiercely loving.

McElhone plays Frankie with an expressive magnetism that changes from brooding to endearing. He may have to wear a hearing aid, but as his mother says, "There's nothing wrong with his brain."

Frankie is a geography buff and a "champion reader." Among his favorite materials are letters supposedly written by his seafaring father. Knowing how badly her boy wants a dad, Lizzie creates a sailor for a parent and secretly writes letters that grow increasingly elaborate. Frankie writes back with enthusiasm, regaling his "father" with stories of his peripatetic ways. "I'm moving again," he writes. "Ma says it's definitely the last time, but she says that every time."

Lizzie's letter-writing scheme seems to be working until the ship, whose name she had randomly picked from a newspaper account, docks in their Scottish town. Now Lizzie must rustle up a man to play Frankie's father or risk being exposed. Enter the handsome and laconic Gerard Butler (The Phantom of the Opera), who takes on the part of Frankie's dad for a fee.

Dear Frankie explores weighty questions such as the challenges of single parenthood as well as broader themes such as loneliness, vulnerability and resilience. The movie also examines the often contradictory desire for closeness and need for distance in relationships.

The movie is set on Scotland's Clyde Coast, which Frankie describes as "right on the edge of the world." The look is gray and moody, which suits the movie's tone and plot.

Frankie convinces us he is both wise and innocent. So we are never sure how much he intuitively knows about his mother's subterfuge, which makes the story more compelling.

Unfortunately, there are moments near the resolution in which the movie veers into melodramatic territory. The symbolism of Frankie's dream ship coming in is a bit heavy-handed. But overall, Dear Frankie is an endearing, occasionally sentimental story told with depth and substance.