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Category: Dear Frankie News
Article Date: February 4, 2005 | Publication: TAEmag.com | Author: Eric Cox
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Dear Frankie

Released by Miramax

Rated PG-13 for language

The once low-key Sundance Film Festival just wrapped up out in Park City, Utah. The big story of this year's festival, according to the New York Times, was a madcap bidding war among major studios that broke out over a hip-hop movie called Hustle and Flow, about a lovable pimp trying to achieve his life's dream of becoming a rap star.

Can't wait to see it? Well, it should soon be in a theater near you, thanks to Paramount/MTV Films, which paid $9 million for the honor of distributing the film worldwide.

The Times story, which is entertaining reading in itself, highlights a few of the absurdities of the very complicated modern movie business, which at times seems to avoid utter bankruptcy only because it is the only industry in which customers buy the finished product before having seen it.

For instance, contrast the story of Hustle and Flow with that of another small movie, a heart-tugging comedy-drama called *Dear Frankie*.

That film, already available on DVD, won't be released in select theaters until next month, due to Miramax's repeatedly pushing it back for reasons unknown (more on that in a moment).

The film stars Emily Mortimer, soon to appear in Woody Allen's next movie, as Lizzie Morrison, a single mother who is constantly moving her mother Nell (Mary Riggans) and her deaf nine-year-old son Frankie (Jack McElhone) to various seaside Scottish towns.

Lizzie left Frankie's father, but doesn't have the heart to tell him that. Instead, she makes up a story that his dad works on a shipping vessel that is constantly traversing the world. She also writes him a letter every week from his dad and reads every letter that Frankie writes back, in which the little boy confides things that his mother otherwise would never know.

In one of the movie's most touching scenes, Nell argues with her daughter for the umpteenth time, pleading with her to tell Frankie the truth. Lizzie tearfully responds that reading Frankie's letters is the only time she's able to hear her son's voice.

Frankie tracks his father's progress on a large wall map by sticking thumb tacks on it to mark the progress of his father's ship's most recent stops. He checks the newspaper every day for any news on the ship, and one day he learns that it is due to dock in the very town where Frankie and his mother are living.

This creates a crisis for Lizzie, who must either tell her son the truth and crush him or find a stranger to pretend to be Frankie's dad for a day.

Dear Frankie is a fine, moving film--a legitimate tear-jerker without being overly sentimental.

Why you haven't been given the opportunity to see it yet is a mystery.

The film was produced in Great Britain in early 2003. Miramax bought the American distribution rights in November 2003 and for some reason is only now distributing it here, long after it had played in other countries and at several domestic film festivals, including the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, where I saw it.

Miramax originally planned to premiere Dear Frankie at last year's Sundance festival, but unexpectedly withdrew it at the last minute. Then the studio announced a release date of September 10, 2004; then it was to be moved up to June 18, then bumped back to October 1, and now is due out March 4.

I doubt Paramount will delay the premiere of Love's Brother that long.

Despite all the arguments that Hollywood produces dreck because that's what audiences want to see, the truth of the matter is that there is plenty of good and decent material out there that executives on the Left Coast don't believe people want to see.

Incidentally, the film that won the top prize at the Heartland festival was a sweet, family-friendly romantic comedy called Love's Brother, written and directed by Oscar nominee Jan Sardi and starring Giovanni Ribisi. The film has so far not been picked up by a single U.S. distributor--not for $9.5 million, not for one dollar.

That's show biz.

Eric Cox is a research fellow at the Sagamore Institute (www.sipr.org) and a movie columnist at TAEmag.com.

 


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