'Dear Frankie': A Love Letter to Moviegoers

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 15, 2005 | Publication: The Dallas Morning News | Author: PHILIP WUNTCH
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Satisfying and even gratifying, Dear Frankie is loaded with traps. Magically, it escapes almost all of them.

First, the characters: There's a fatherless, hearing-impaired 9-year-old boy, Frankie, who longs for a dear ol' dad. There's a devoted but discouraged mother, Lizzie, who lives for her fatherless, hearing-impaired son. There's even a plainspoken granny fond of stating her opinion even if no one's asked.

Now, the plot: The absent father is really an abusive, dangerous lout, but Lizzie tells Frankie that he's a dashing seaman. Frankie regularly writes letters to his alleged father, which Lizzie intercepts and, posing on page as his father, answers in ways that will nurture Frankie.

Finally, the moment of truth: Frankie reads that the ship his dad is supposedly on will dock near their Glasgow, Scotland, dwelling. Should Lizzie tell Frankie the truth? Or should she hire a handsome stranger to play dad-for-a-day? Do you really have to ask?

Remarkably, what seems more than faintly ridiculous in outline emerges on screen with warmth and credibility. Dear Frankie benefits from strong performances, observant direction and realistic dialogue.

Working from a solid screenplay by Andrea Gibb, first-time director Shona Auerbach gets believable performances from her cast and soaks the film in gritty, working-class atmosphere. She also keeps the mood consistently mellow, which helps the audience accept some of the plot's more outlandish twists.

Emily Mortimer shines as Lizzie. Obviously glammed down, she plays the role without a hint of self-awareness, and her eyes reflect a life filled with hard knocks. She enjoys a strong rapport with Jack McElhone, who plays Frankie with surprising serenity and a refreshing lack of excessive vulnerability.

In the wish-fulfillment role of the obliging stranger, Gerard Butler is persuasive enough to make viewers forget his uneven Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera.

One false note from actors or director, and the movie would collapse under the weight of fulfilling too many wishes. But it stays afloat with grace and even charm.