Sweet "Dear Frankie" Sidesteps Schmaltz

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 17, 2005 | Publication: On Milwaukee.Com | Author: Bobby Tanzilo
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Leave it to Britain -- in this case Scotland -- to give us another unassumingly wonderful film about a family trying to make the best of things. In the case of "Dear Frankie," directed by Shona Auerbach and written by Andrea Gibb, it's a story about a deaf boy and his mother.

Frankie (Jack McElhone) is 9 -- well, 9 and a half --- years old and he's deaf, although not by birth, but rather by accident. He's also smart as a whip and, as his mom says, "a champion lip-reader." He lives with his mom and grandma Nell (Mary Riggans) and he's fatherless, although he doesn't know it. That's because he carries on a correspondence with his dad, who works on a ship traversing the world.

What Frankie doesn't know is that his mom Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) is the one he's writing to and receiving letters from. However, when the HMS Accra is due to dock near Glasgow, Frankie is excited to meet his dad. How was his mom to know that there really was a ship with that name?

Lizzie has been trying for years to cover up the real story of Frankie's dad, who, it seems, left them when Frankie was just a baby. Now, she can either tell him the truth or...

What she does is hire a man (Gerard Butler, "The Phantom of the Opera") to stand in for a day as Frankie's dad, with a little help from her friend and boss, Marie (Sharon Small). But her plan has complications, some of which can certainly be guessed but the predictability of which still don't ruin a sweet film.

Will Frankie learn the truth? Will his real dad re-emerge to mess up the whole plan? Will Lizzie go insane trying to keep her son safe from the truth?

Filmed in pale tones appropriate for traditional ideas of Glasgow, which these days is a thoroughly modern and completely happening town, one wonders if the film is meant to be set in the '70s or earlier.

Mortimer is the cast standout, with her passionate portrayal of a conflicted mother trying to do the best for her boy. But it's hard to fault McElhone, Butler or Riggans, who also give great performances.

And Gibb deserves credit for ensuring that her script -- rife with potential for schmaltz -- never becomes bogged down with melodrama and cheesiness.

"Dear Frankie," rated PG-13 for language, opened Friday, April 15 at Landmark's Downer Theatre.