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Quiet 'Frankie' touches the heart

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: March 11, 2005 | Publication: Everett Herald | Author: Robert Horton
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Most movies are afraid of scenes where people simply sit together without speaking. Maybe filmmakers think the audience's attention span will snap, or somebody will turn the channel.

Maybe they're right. Still, "Dear Frankie" proves the spectacle of people silently sharing space (a frequent occurrence in this quiet picture) can be extremely touching.

"Dear Frankie" is a heartwarming film from Scotland that played in last year's Seattle International Film Festival. It's set in Glasgow, where the gray skies are a fitting backdrop.

A single mom, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) has just moved for the umpteenth time. Her almost-10-year-old son Frankie (Jack McElhone) and her mom (Mary Riggans) patiently tag along.

Frankie is deaf, and reluctant to speak. He lives for letters from his father, a seaman, who sends stamps from exotic places around the world - except that we know early on that the letters are really written by Lizzie, who hasn't heard from Frankie's father in years.

Thanks to a coincidence that stretches believability, the ship Lizzie picked as the father's imaginary berth arrives in Glasgow, and Frankie finds out about it. Lizzie determines to hire a stranger to pretend to be Frankie's father for one day. The man (Gerard Butler) is skeptical, but willing to fake it, as long as he gets paid.

I will now try to explain why this preposterous-sounding story actually makes for a rather nice movie. First of all, first-time director Shona Auerbach shows admirable restraint in staging even the unlikeliest plot twists - she never milks a scene. This includes the avoidance of syrupy music.

And I like the way she lets the audience draw conclusions. A number of points we have to figure out for ourselves, including some late-day revelations, but it all makes sense, and Auerbach trusts that we don't need our hands held.

She's also good with actors. Elfin-faced Emily Mortimer (from "Lovely & Amazing") has practically cornered the market on British cuteness, but here she displays a flinty, wounded quality. Jack McElhone gives Frankie a sprightly but sad energy, and never the cliche of a disabled movie kid.

Gerard Butler is a strong actor who was stuck in the title role of "The Phantom of the Opera" a couple of months back. Here he makes a case for a character who probably doesn't exist except in a screenwriter's mind.

There are a dozen reasons you could pick apart this film, but the persuasiveness of acting, directing, and location carry the day. If you go with it, this movie will have the handkerchiefs out in force before it's halfway over.

"Dear Frankie" HHHH

Genuine: A heartwarming film from Scotland, about a mother's ruse to make her deaf son believe his father still cares for him. Fine acting by Emily Mortimer and Gerard Butler, and a sense of restraint, make this one triumph over its lapses in believability.

Rated: PG-13 rating is for subject matter.

 


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