Dear Frankie Review

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: May 7, 2005 | Publication: New Zealand Herald | Author: Rebecca Barry
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First-time director Shona Auerbach takes a thoughtful, understated approach to a story that could have turned into a soppy fairytale in the wrong hands.

Nine-year-old Frankie is a deaf boy whose mother, Lizzie, carts him and his grandmother around Scotland out of fear that her abusive husband will one day catch up with them.

Frankie is too young to remember his dad so Lizzie concocts a story that he's a brave, seafaring voyager, and writes letters from this fictitious character to protect Frankie from the truth.

When Frankie reads in the paper that the boat his father is supposedly travelling on is about to dock in their town, Lizzie sets out to find a man to act as his father for a day, despite her mother's warning that it will turn to custard. It does, in the form of a handsome stranger who starts falling for Frankie and his mum.

Yes, it all sounds terribly twee, and you can bet that if Hollywood had had a hand in the film it would have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But thanks to the superb acting, interesting plot and graceful direction, it's easy to forgive some of the film's emotional devices.

Lizzie is both a tough and fragile character and Emily Mortimer portrays her with depth and substance. Gerard Butler plays the stand-in dad with just the right combination of roguishness and sensitivity, and child star Jack McElhone is a rare find - cute, smart and expressive in a role that is treated with as much respect as the roles of the adults.

Auerbach allows the plot to develop leisurely, through visuals rather than words, and there are just enough surprises to keep up the momentum.

The scenery is not of rolling green Scottish hills but of foggy outdoors and dull interiors, and Frankie's cheery drawings and funny interactions with his school-mates reflect the hopeful tone of the film.

It's rare that a story so sweet is told without turning to syrup.