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Dear Frankie

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: March 3, 2005 | Publication: Catholic News Service | Author: Harry Forbes
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NEW YORK (CNS) -- "Dear Frankie" (Miramax) is a captivating film set in Scotland about a loving single mother, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), who pretends to her 9-year-old deaf son, Frankie (Jack McElhone), that his father is simply away at sea.

Though Frankie can't hear, he is an expert at reading lips and is keenly intelligent. Lizzie will not tolerate his being treated differently from anyone else, and will not suffer gladly anyone who does. Nor will Nell, her chain-smoking mother (Mary Riggans), who lives with them.

Lizzie is escaping her past, which includes Frankie's father (for reasons not revealed until late in the film), and she frequently uproots her family and moves from place to place.

Lizzie is able to sustain the illusion that Frankie's father is a sailor on a particular ship, HMS Accra, by forging letters purporting to be from the absent father in faraway places, sending him exotic stamps, and giving him a local post office box where he can send letters in response. (The moral issue of Lizzie perpetuating what is essentially a lie, albeit for a noble cause, is given full weight.)

When the Accra comes into port, Frankie has every expectation that his father will be on it. A malicious schoolboy bets him that his father will not show, and Frankie takes the challenge, adding to the tension.

Frankie's longing for his absent dad is so achingly strong, Lizzie is tempted to find a man so that Frankie will have the male presence he so needs, even boldly going into a smoke-filled macho bar hoping to meet someone that will fit the bill, a dispiriting experience that ends with her in tears on a solitary bench. Her kindly friend and employer, Marie (Sharon Small), agrees to find a stranger (Gerard Butler) who can pose as Frankie's father for a day, since the boy has never actually seen his real dad.

Though the unnamed stranger accepts the agreed-upon money for his services, Frankie's spontaneous embrace quickly humanizes the business arrangement, and a warm bond develops between the man and the boy, and eventually between the stranger and the mother, whose emotions have been defensively bottled up.

Complications inevitably ensue, though, when Frankie's real father emerges from the past.

Shona Auerbach -- directing from scriptwriter Andrea Gibb's touching story -- has made an immensely appealing film. Some minor plot improbabilities aside, the story -- and certainly the emotions -- ring heartrendingly true. The ending is satisfying, and avoids the expected denouement. The Scottish accents take some deciphering at first, but the ear quickly gets accustomed.

If you liked "Phantom of the Opera," you'll enjoy seeing that film's star, Butler, without his mask, giving a beautifully modulated performance, projecting Russell Crowe-like intensity and stolidity, and making the growing affection for the boy and his mom very plausible. Mortimer is a convincing exemplar of maternal tough love. And McElhone, whose character doesn't speak, narrates (a lovely touch), giving one of those remarkable performances that children often do.

"Dear Frankie" is sure to bring a lump to the throat -- a prominent critic at a recent screening was sobbing uncontrollably -- and in spite of a smattering of expletives (dramatically justified), this is superlative entertainment for adults and older adolescents.

The film contains a few profane and rough words, a single lewd gesture from a child, some mature thematic material and some alcohol use. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents are strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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Forbes is director of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

 


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