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Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: March 4, 2005 | Publication:
SPLICEDwired | Author: Rob Blackwelder

Posted by: admin

Moving performances almost overcome emotional conceits in tender drama about a boy and his fake father

Sometimes no amount of good acting can make a film hold your interest.

"Dear Frankie" stars newcomer Jack McElhone as 10-year-old Frankie, a deaf Scottish lad who lives for the letters he gets from his long-absent merchant marine father. The always sublime Emily Mortimer ("Bright Young Things, " "Lovely & Amazing") plays his adoring, struggling-class mum who actually writes the letters, having run away from an abusive marriage and lied to her son. Stoic yet revealing Gerard Butler (the Phantom of last year's "The Phantom of the Opera") is a gruff and distant but tenderhearted stranger Mortimer pays to play Daddy for a day when her charade seems headed toward collapse.

Each of them has an affecting and genuine presence that gives the film heart, but its plot is motivated more by emotional conceit than by real-world sense -- the practical upshot of which is a naive story arc that inspires more dubious reservation than engaging empathy.

Director Shona Auerbach does a fine job of capturing the overcast grayness of dockside Glasgow, where Mum and Frankie have just moved into in a small apartment with her mother in tow. She allows her actors to find every nuance of their roles, and Mortimer gives a remarkable performance, exposing her character's deep vulnerability (when the stranger takes a genuine shine to Frankie, she takes a shine to the stranger) while still trying to be strong for her son.

But Auerbach doesn't seem too concerned with any of the character's motivations. If Mum took Frankie into hiding when he was just an infant, why make up a story about his father at all? It's not like the kid would miss him, she's not a very good liar, and the more complicated the illusion becomes (largely for the sake of a creating more plot), the worse it will hurt the boy when the truth inevitably comes out.

Or so it seems. Trying hard to be a feel-good movie despite its melancholy heart, "Dear Frankie" has an all too easy resolution for the mother's deceit (and the son's gullibility), and it's such a contrivance that in the end, even the film's strong foundation of emotional veracity is called into question.


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