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Dear Frankie

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: March 3, 2005 | Publication: Newsday | Author: GENE SEYMOUR
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(PG-13). Tender, gritty little story, set in Scotland, is about a deaf boy (Jack McElhone) who gets letters from his seafaring "father" that are actually written by his mother (Emily Mortimer). Events beyond her control force her to find a real person to stand in for the fake dad. With Gerard Butler, Sharon Small and Mary Riggans. Directed by Shona Auerbach from a script by Andrea Gibb. 1:32 (a few vulgar words). At select theaters.

There's a cool, gray overlay to "Dear Frankie" that effectively neutralizes any impulse to extract gratuitous tears. Certainly, the premise of Andrea Gibb's script all but begs for the usual "It Will Touch Your Heart" blurbs.

An intelligent, hearing-impaired 9-year-old boy (Jack McElhone), residing in a Scottish seaside town with his mother (Emily Mortimer) and grandmother (Mary Riggans), lives for each letter he gets from his father, who's supposedly sailing the world on a merchant ship.

But the letters, even their richly detailed accounts of equatorial sunsets, are actually written and posted by his mother, who's been on the run from his real - and abusive - dad.

Imagine her surprise when the boy finds out that a ship bearing the same name as the one in the letters is about to dock in their port. Now, she has to frantically find someone to go along with her story and, with a neighbor's help, finds a brooding, weathered seaman (Gerard Butler) with "no past, no family" to pretend to be father to her son.

"Dear Frankie" never conspicuously begs for your empathy and neither does Mortimer, who carefully metes out her character's skittish mannerisms. Butler, McElhone and the rest of the cast are comparably, admirably settled into what would, under more moist conditions, come across as hackneyed and maudlin. Their composure, along with that of director Shona Auerbach, enables "Dear Frankie" to earn whatever heart-touching epithets it's destined to attract.

 


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