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Strong cast binds heartwarming Scottish import 'Dear Frankie'

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: March 11, 2005 | Publication: Philadelphia Daily News | Author: GARY THOMPSON
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A woman's flight from an abusive husband turns into a strangely heartwarming story of devotion in Scotland's "Dear Frankie."

Emily Mortimer ("Lovely and Amazing") plays the mother, who's spent several years on the run, moving from town to town, taking odd jobs, doing her best to care for her 9-year-old boy (Jack McElhone).

To shield the boy from the bad father he was too young to know, she's invented a good one - a sailor whose long stints at sea account for his absence. Frankie follows the ship's movements on a map of the world and writes letters. The mother answers them, embellishing him as a caring, considerate man.

I found this premise resistible. We can understand her instinct to create a decent father, but there is something cruel about this deception - we anticipate a reckoning, when the boy's shattered illusions will be compounded by the realization of his mother has lied. Also, one wonders how she was able to maintain this fraud for so long.

On the other hand, the movie is so well-performed and beautifully photographed that "Dear Frankie" wore me down. It quietly builds empathy though the credibility of its central relationships - Mortimer with her son, with her chain-smoking mother (Mary Riggins), with a helpful neighbor (Sharon Small).

Young McElhone ably anchors another crucial thread of the movie - Frankie's efforts to adapt to yet another new school. There, another lad (Sean Brown) emerges as both a friend and antagonist, a nicely drawn supporting role that typifies the movie's knack for avoiding easy stereotypes.

It's Frankie's friend who forces him to confront the issue of whether the seafaring father is real or imagined, which forces Frankie's mother to either come clean or take her game of deception to a new and more emotionally dangerous level.

She chooses the latter, and again it's the strength of the acting and the movie's measured tone that carry it off, even through the introduction of a knight in shining armor (Gerard Butler) - the one character in "Dear Frankie" too good to be true.

 


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