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A working-class heartwarmer

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: March 4, 2005 | Publication: Los Angeles Times | Author: Carina Chocano
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Set in a Scottish port city, 'Dear Frankie' is infused with tender family feeling.


"Dear Frankie" stars Emily Mortimer as a single mother who creates a make-believe dad to compensate for the one her 9-year-old son has already got. Lizzie (Mortimer), Frankie (Jack McElhone) and her mother, Nell (Mary Riggans), have been running from the abusive Davey (Cal Macaninch) for years, but Lizzie has been telling Frankie that his father is a sailor on board a ship called the Accra. And Frankie has been plotting his "da's" course on the world map above his bed for years, according to the stamps on the letters he regularly receives from
him. What Frankie doesn't know, or doesn't let on if he does, is that
the letters are written by Lizzie, who explains away their Scottish
postmarks by saying they pass through a mail depot in Glasgow.

Nell wants Lizzie to tell Frankie the truth, especially because the
actual Accra will be docking at Greenock, where they live, in a few
days. Frankie has bet a schoolmate his entire international stamp
collection that his father will make it to his football tryouts, and a
desperate Lizzie enlists her friend Marie (Sharon Small) to help her
find a man willing to pose as the boy's father for a day. Marie comes
through, and one day Frankie finds a handsome, if somewhat
uncomfortable, stranger bearing a colorful book on marine life sitting
in his kitchen.

With her lank brown hair, sad eyes and rangy frame, Mortimer is a
natural for this kind of role -- the tough but vulnerable single mom
perennially clad in boiled wool. She is so convincing in the part that
it's easy to forget how adept she is at transformation (she played a
glamour-girl socialite in "Bright Young Things" and an insecure actress
in "Lovely and Amazing"). Mortimer is capable of a quick, secret
intimacy that makes her especially believable as the single mother of a
deaf child with whom she communicates with her own mix of sign language
and gestures. Riggans' Nell is by far the saltier of the two -- she
smokes and carps and worries about the dream world Lizzie has created
for Frankie. In some lights she looks a little like Anne Meara, and you
half expect her to say something horribly inappropriate at just the
right time.

Directed by Shona Auerbach and written by Andrea Gibb, "Dear Frankie"
nestles comfortably in that Scottish-Celtic niche of cozy, overcast,
working-class fairy tales that seem to smell faintly of fried fish and
beer. Gerard Butler, who was young Christine's aristo-lover in "The
Phantom of the Opera," plays the stranger who pretends to be Frankie's
dad, though he's appropriately scuffed and stubbly-faced here. Despite
his salty-dog appearance (he looks as if he walked out of a J. Crew
catalog), the man is about as hard-boiled as a marshmallow -- within 12
hours he's wondering out loud how Frankie's father could have left the
two of them and lobbying hard for a second day en famille.

Not that "Dear Frankie" aspires to any kind of hardened realism. On the
contrary, it caters to a particular type of Anglophile fantasy, the kind
where the china doesn't match and the chintz is dingy, but people look
out for one another and love sprouts easily in the humidity. As a boy
cut off, to some degree, from the world around him, McElhone is
appealingly grounded and projects a certain degree of self-sufficiency
that allows him to engage in his mother's fantasy without threat of too
much outside disruption. "Dear Frankie's" surprises are few and low-key,
but the story wraps up nicely. In that way, the movie is not unlike the
fish dinners Frankie (who doesn't eat fish, out of some sort of
solidarity with marine life) procures from Marie -- slightly soggy and
bland, but as warm, starchy and satisfying as a box of fries.

 


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