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Dear Frankie

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: March 9, 2005 | Publication: Seattle Weekly | Author: Reviewer
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Though set in present-day Glasgow, this small, not quite oversweetened Scottish drama takes place in a world where 9-year-old boys haven't discovered Nintendo, where cell phones don't exist, and where a strong, silent man shows up exactly when you need him. The gaping need for the Morrison family—two generations of women and one deaf, lonely boy—is for a father, but on a purely rental basis. Single parent Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) has perpetuated a letter-writing ruse between her son, Frankie (Jack McElhone), and long-absent husband, Davey, whom she represents to be a seaman never in port. Frankie's one of those precociously grave, self-contained sorts who shouldn't be fooled by the suspicious airmail envelopes, postmarks, and handwriting. In fact, he'd probably love the Internet, if only it had been invented. But, again, Dear Frankie adheres to certain conventions—like the antiquated look of dingy old Glasgow itself—that disappeared from the cinema about a half-century ago.

Still, the film stays within its bounds—predictably and effectively sentimental, without mopping the floor with tears. Neither Lizzie nor her mother is graced with a benevolent maternal halo. They're more like a nervous pair of fugitives, with Frankie as their loot. Frankie's wise little smile makes him seem the con artist in short pants; threatened with teasing at his new school, he immediately co-opts the lead tormenter with friendship. It's his ears, not his brain, that are defective.

When it appears that fictitious Davey's fictitious ship is due to dock on the Clyde, Lizzie goes out on a manhunt to rent a dad for the day. She wants someone with "no past, present, or future," which yields a stranger (Gerard Butler) willing to play the part. Though we never learn his name, you could practically call him Shane, since that's the effect he has on the Morrisons. Frankie is thrilled by his fake pa; Lizzie finds herself drawn to the surrogate; and even this mysterious imposter shows signs of genuine family feeling.

"Let him have this one day," Lizzie pleads for her son. Yet some may feel that Frankie is demanding a little more of our time than the situation warrants. We'd like to believe in the power of stamp collections, sea horses, and skipping stones on the beach. Father and son bonding over ice cream is well and fine, but our Nintendos and cell phones are waiting. Perhaps for that reason, the movie's main satisfaction comes when Frankie finally starts living in the present. (PG-13) BRIAN MILLER

 


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