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'Dear Frankie' brings emotions home

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: March 11, 2005 | Publication: The Detroit News | Author: Tom Long
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Scottish movie rings true as a film that deserves every heart it wins ... and it will win many.

'Dear Frankie'

GRADE: B+

Rated PG-13 for language

Running time: 102 minutes

Nine-year-old Frankie is small and deaf and he misses having a father. So he writes letters to his dad, who is supposedly working on a boat, traveling the world.

His mom, Lizzie, pockets Frankie's letters to his dad, knowing the man is not on a boat somewhere; and she writes her son, replying as if she were his dad. The boy treasures the letters he sends, treasures the letters he gets, treasures the idea that somewhere out there his father loves him.

But then Lizzie's nightmare and Frankie's dream come true at the same time when the boat Frankie's dad is supposed to be on has a scheduled landing in the Scottish port town where they live.

Frankie has no memory of his father so now Lizzie has to find someone to impersonate him, to pretend to come in with the tide and then leave with it, to keep Frankie's love of his absent father alive.

This is the premise of "Dear Frankie," a movie that makes virtually every right turn. Filled with the potential to become an outright bawl-fest, it instead always holds back just the right amount, never feeling false or forced, always ringing true.

Written by Andrea Gibb and admirably directed by Shona Auerbach it is the sort of movie that deserves every heart it wins, and it will win many.

There's a sense of detail here that only the very best films have, knowledge of when to fill in the story and when to let it breathe. The bully at Frankie's school, the girl he becomes friends with, Lizzie's awkward attempts to reconnect with the world beyond her little boy, all combine to make you believe in these lives, so the strange situation Lizzie finds herself in never seems strange at all. She is a mother trying to protect and nurture her son, trying to give him confidence in his own abilities and potential.

The film relies a great deal on its cast since there are no pyrotechnics; and the three people at the center here come off wonderfully real.

Lizzie is played by earthy beauty Emily Mortimer, a woman who would look appropriate in a beauty contest or behind the counter of a butcher shop, and she releases Lizzie with sly confidence, slowly letting her come out in the open.

Young Jack McElhone does the opposite with Frankie, laying his enthusiasm and apprehensions straight out, making sure there's no pity involved in the boy, just ferocious need.

The key to the evolution of both mother and son is the stranger who agrees to impersonate Frankie's dad, played by Gerard Butler (most recently seen as the Phantom in "The Phantom of the Opera").

Butler arrives at just the right point in the film, bringing a sense of danger and mystery and anxiety to things with an initially closed-lip performance that eventually takes wing, in the reserved way fine performances by Scottish actors take wing. That Butler's character is slowly taken aback and confused by his own reactions to Frankie completes a triad of kind, searching personalities

"Dear Frankie" is a rarity among family films, a movie that doesn't need to scream with emotion in order to provoke emotion, a story with a heart-breaking premise that becomes truly heartwarming, but without all the syrup you'd expect.

It earns every honest tear it draws out of you, as well as every laugh.

"Frankie" is indeed dear.

 


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