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Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: March 4, 2005 | Publication: collective | Author: callmomrad

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One of four films showcased at this month’s Portland International Film Festival, Dear Frankie had already created quite a buzz at Cannes, where it elicited a 15-minute standing ovation. Showings at the Sedona, AZ and Cleveland, OH Festivals in March will round out the pre-release schedule for this film fest favorite. This quiet little film from Scotland is impossible not to like, as it observes without judging the interplay between a struggling single mom and her deaf son, and the stranger she has drawn in to support a lie she has perpetrated in order to protect him.

Much to the chagrin of her more practical mother, Lizzie has concocted a full-blown fantasy of a romantic sailor and maritime adventures to explain the physical lack of a father in Frankie’s life. She took the name ACCRA from a stamp and has the boy track this imaginary ship and write letters to a PO Box, which she then collects herself and answers in the absent father’s name. Predictably, a ship by that name comes into port one day, and Lizzie, rather than dash her son’s carefully-protected beliefs, chooses a stranger to stand in for the prodigal dad for 24 hours.

Emily Mortimer portrays the selfless mom with a matter-of-factness that precludes any semblance of cloying sentimentality. Her all-too-familiar plight does not pigeon-hole her as a victim, but rather allows her to be the hero of her own story. And Jack MacElhone plays her 9-year-old son with such guileless directness and humor that there is simply no feeling sorry for him.

The heart of the movie, however, is in the developing relationship between Frankie and the Stranger, aptly played by Gerard Butler, last seen emoting spectacularly as the Phantom of the Opera in a tour de force of song and angst. Here, in a very restrained and nuanced performance, Mr. Butler manages to establish such a strong presence that it is literally palpable even when his character is off-screen. Frankie blossoms at the inclusion of a tangible father figure in his life, and he and the Stranger manage to convey a depth of emotion without resorting to dialogue. This is a subtle form of acting by implication.

This is Shona Auerbach’s directorial debut, and it is an auspicious one. Her background in still photography is evident in the gorgeous cinematography, but it is the simple story-telling and the characters that drive the film. Dear Frankie avoids the platitudes and pitfalls of a potentially overwrought theme and provides fresh insights in an almost casual manner. We can only hope that Ms. Auerbach will continue to shed her clear and sympathetic light on other social issues in future films.

Dear Frankie opens in limited release (NY and CA) on March 4, 2005, and wider release on March 11, 2005. While this has all the earmarks of an Art film that might feel at home at the Ritz Theater in Society Hill, I would urge local distributors to support wider distributorship throughout Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love has a crisis of single mothers and absent fathers that is addressed directly, yet gently, in this movie gem. You may bring a box of Kleenex with you into Dear Frankie, but you will leave with hope in your heart and perhaps even a plausible plan for a better tomorrow.


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