IT'S A MOVIE DEAR TO THE HEART
Category: Dear Frankie Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: March 25, 2005 | Publication: TORONTO SUN | Author: BRUCE KIRKLAND
PLOT: An overprotective mother hires a stranger to pose as her son's long-lost father, a man whom the boy knows only from fake letters from abroad that the mother has been secretly writing. The decision has unexpected consequences.
IN A SEEN-IT-ALL world of contemporary cinema, the Scottish film Dear Frankie stands out as a fresh, original way to explore the human condition.
While the film is remarkable for its subtle, finely honed performances by everyone involved, even those in small parts, it is screenwriter Andrea Gibb's story that first jumps out.
A loving mother with a dark, undisclosed past (Emily Mortimer) moves her young son (Jack McElhone) to a new town, along with the skeptical grandmother (Mary Riggans).
The boy, the Frankie of the title, has special needs because he is deaf. But the biggest disabilities in the saga are emotional, not physical, and it is the adults who suffer them.
The mother is thrown for a loop when her son finds out that the freighter his long-lost sailor father supposedly serves on is actually heading into harbour. That is when we discover that mom has been writing those letters the boy thinks are from his father. She is protecting his son from a sad truth.
To solve the crisis, mom decides to hire a total stranger (Gerard Butler) to serve as dad for a day, armed with information he gleans from the fake letters.
This decision will have startling and unexpected results as the story unfolds, slowly yet elegantly like a flower blossoming. There is something so beautiful and organic about the piece that you might find yourself crying, in both sorrow and happiness. Real life, real mothering, is a complex job.
Mortimer is splendid in the lead role as mom, infusing her character with the right balance of mystery and openness that keeps us close to her without knowing too much too soon. Butler says little and communicates a lot with a quiet, dignified performance that lets the audience identify strongly with his character and the story as a whole. As a result of Dear Frankie, we can forgive Butler his participation in the ghastly film version of The Phantom Of The Opera.
Another key role, the fish 'n' chips friend Marie, is played by Sharon Small. Meanwhile, McElhone thankfully never overplays the deafness, nor the angst, of his character. Director Shona Auerbach obviously has a beautiful way with child actors, even though this is her directorial debut and she has limited experience, mainly in making advertisements.
Auerbach also worked as her own cinematographer. Dear Frankie is photographed with a keen eye for the stark beauty of the shipyards, the town of Greenock and the working class people with their sharply etched features and woollen clothes. Nothing is flash here. Reality is in play.
I eagerly want to share this small treasure and talk about the emotional ending of the film, with its wrenching revelations. But, of course, that would spoil it for you. Go to the film, just don't leave early.
1 HOUR, 42 MINUTES
STARRING: EMILY MORTIMER, GERARD BUTLER
DIRECTOR: SHONA AUERBACH
THIS IS AN INTELLIGENT, FINELY CRAFTED, SCOTTISH-MADE FILM THAT SHOULD APPEAL TO PEOPLE SEEKING DRAMAS ABOUT THE HUMAN CONDITION.
-- BRUCE KIRKLAND
Sun Rating: 4 out of 5