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Dear Frankie

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: August 28, 2004 | Publication: Z Movie Review | Author: Adam Whyte

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Shona Auerbrach’s film “Dear Frankie” sometimes descends into mushy sentimentality and contrivance, but it is saved. I can sum up its salvation in two words: Emily Mortimer. What a wonderful presence she is on screen; how quickly we empathise with her.

Her character, Lizzie Morrison, lives with her mother and her son, Frankie (Jack McElhome, instantly loveable). He is deaf and dumb. They left her husband, his father, a long time ago; so long that Frankie does not remember him. To prevent him from knowing the truth about his dad, Lizzie sends Frankie a letter every few weeks from his ‘father,’ who, as far as Frankie knows, works on a boat that sails around the world.

At the start of the film, the trio (Frankie, mother, grandmother) move house, to a place near the sea. Lizzie gets a job in the local chip shop. One of Frankie’s new schoolmates informs him that his dad’s boat (the one that Lizzie, randomly, chose as Frankie’s father’s) is coming to the nearby harbour. Finally, Frankie thinks, a chance to see my dad.

Lizzie realises she is in trouble. Her mother tells her to tell Frankie the truth; he has a right to know. She doesn’t think that’s a good idea, and
comes up with a plan: she will find a man with ‘no past, present or future,’ and pay him to pretend to be Frankie’s dad, just for one day. And -wouldn’t
you know it? – her friend from the chip shop knows of just such a man. He is played by Gerard Butler.

Butler is also wonderful in this movie; I particularly liked the scene where the ‘father’ meets Frankie for the first time, and Frankie hugs him. The uneasy way Butler reacts is realistic and surprisingly touching.
Sometimes the film lays it on a bit thick. There are too many scenes where little is happening between the characters, but a song is played on the
soundtrack to make it look like something is. We are asked to believe that, just at the same time that this stranger enters Lizzie’s life, she hears from Frankie’s real dad. This is a contrived set-up, but out of it rise some moments of sweetness, warmth and heart.

The film was written by Andrea Gibb, who wrote last year’s Festival entry “AfterLife,” which, though unloved by me, won the Audience Award. I thought
the dialogue in it was phoney, and the ending was so manipulative that it made me want to throw something at the screen. This time round, the
dialogue rings more true (thanks in part to the excellent delivery and acting skills of Butler and Mortimer), and I was pleasantly surprised by the
film’s choice to end on a subtle, cleverly touching note, rather than play another nasty trick on the viewer.

The dialogue between the school kids still has the feeling of being a bit unrealistic, as does some of the plot. The sentimentality sometimes touches
us, and sometimes makes us want to step back. I don’t mind a film manipulating me, so long as it manipulates me well, and this movie does.
Most of the time.

*** (out of 5)


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