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US critic names Scots film ‘movie of the year’

Category: Dear Frankie News
Article Date: December 16, 2005 | Publication: The Herald | Author: PHIL MILLER, Arts Correspondent

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It is a low-budget Scottish film about a deaf boy from the west coast of Scotland, shot on a shoestring and given a critical mauling from Britain's top film writers.

But a year after it was released in the UK, Dear Frankie has been named as the film of the year by one of America's most influential film critics.

David Germain named it as his pick of the year for its "pure decency and inspiration", and put it ahead of big-budget rivals such as King Kong and The Producers.

Andrea Gibb, the film's Glasgow-based writer, said she was amazed and hopes it will improve the film's fortunes in Britain, where mixed reviews led to a "disappointing" response from cinema-goers.

The warm-hearted tale is a world away from gritty Scottish films such as Trainspotting, but one British critic called it a "squawking, gobbling turkey" after its showing at the Cannes film festival.

However, in the US the film was backed by Oscar-winning distributor Miramax and it received rave reviews.

Variety magazine, which is perceived as the Hollywood "bible", praised the film's "stirring poignancy, warmth and emotional insight".

At Cannes, the film, which made nearly $1.5m (£850,000) in US cinemas, received a standing ovation from some overwhelmed critics.
Starring Emily Mortimer, Gerry Butler, Sharon Small, and Jack McElhone, the film is a family melodrama which follows the efforts of a single mother to conceal harsh truths from Frankie, her deaf son.

As far as the boy is concerned, his absent father is away at sea, remaining in touch by way of tender letters – however, in reality, Frankie's mother Lizzie is writing the letters, in the hope that Frankie will never find out that she is on the run from her violent ex-husband.

Ms Gibb said that positive word of mouth had turned the film, which was based and shot in Greenock and Glasgow and backed by £500,000 from Scottish Screen, into a "cult" success in the US. She said its much criticised "sentimentality" was accepted more widely in the US than in Britain and the large American fanbase of Butler, a Scot, also helped.

Ms Gibb said last night: "This is fantastic news, I can't quite believe it. We were fortunate in that Gerry has a really dedicated bunch of fans, and they helped and asked for cinemas to show the film, and for stores to stock the DVD." She added: "In Britain we got some really bad reviews, especially from the broadsheet newspapers in England, who really took against it.

"But I never thought it was a 'one star' film, and it played for five weeks at the UGC in Glasgow and did well in Germany.

"It was described as sentimental, and criticised for it, but in the US, with Hollywood being so overwhelmingly sentimental, it was praised for being emotionally sparse!
"So one man's sentimentality is another's emotion."

Germain, who made his recommendations in a bulletin issued yesterday, said: "Director Shona Auerbach spins a heart-on-its-sleeve drama of pure decency and inspiration.

"Emily Mortimer imbues her porcelain facade with steely inner strength . . .Gerard Butler is a stoic stranger who finds his inner saint after signing on as the boy's sire for hire."

The film has always had a strong US link – it was given its debut at the Tribeca film festival in New York last year, and was snapped up by Miramax for international distribution, with Pathe releasing it in Britain.

Miramax, behind successes such as Pulp Fiction and Chicago, took the film after its chairman, Harvey Weinstein, "fell in love with the film".

What they said

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian.
"This film struck me as sucrose and false when it premiered at last year's Cannes film festival. A second viewing certainly points up the presence of good actors doing an honest job, but they cannot do anything about something so mawkish and fundamentally unconvincing."

Philip French, The Observer.
"A sentimental mess."

Pauline McLeod, The Times.
"This poignant and whimsical gem could so easily have been mawkish mush, but the director Auerbach handles the material with an assured sensitivity."

Hannah McGill, The Herald.
"A warm-hearted, warm-hued family melodrama looks gorgeous and strikes a basic chord of emotional resonance."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone.
"What could have been a sentimental train-wreck emerges as a funny and touching portrait of three bruised people."

Ruthe Stein, San Francisco Chronicle.
"Dear Frankie is about believing in other people and their capacity to care. That belief may not always be warranted. But as this wise and wondrous film affirms it's worth the risk."

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
"This sounds, I know, like the plot of a melodramatic tearjerker, but the filmmakers work close to the bone, finding emotional truth in hard, lonely lives."


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