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Stranger is a lifeline to family

Category: Dear Frankie News
Article Date: March 11, 2005 | Publication:
Detroit Free Press | Author: Terry Lawson
Source:

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On paper, the Scottish drama "Dear Frankie" sounds suitable only for adults who collect Hallmark cards: A single mother raising a deaf child attempts to keep him from learning that his father was so physically abusive she had to leave him and that they remain constantly on the move in fear he will find them.

Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) has never told Frankie (Jack McElhone) the truth. Instead, she has told him his father is a sailor on a cargo ship that travels the world. Every week, Frankie receives a letter from some exotic port of call describing the sailor's adventures and sending his love. (Mom, of course, writes the letters.)

Frankie dutifully keeps track of his father's travels on a wall map, placing a pin everywhere the Accra (that's the name of the ship) has anchored. But when Frankie reads in the shipping news that the Accra will soon be docking nearby and informs a suspicious schoolmate that he will soon see his dad, his mother is in what was once called a pickle.

The solution is provided by Lizzie's mate at the fish shop, Marie (Sharon Small), who volunteers her brooding brother to impersonate Frankie's da. Reluctantly, he agrees -- for a suitable fee. But what is meant to be a few hours of harmless deception becomes something else when the brother (Gerard Butler, recently seen hiding behind a different kind of mask in "The Phantom of the Opera") takes a real liking to Frankie and proposes a further meeting. He also seems to be taken by Frankie's ma, an unexpected complication she does her best to deny.

Very little about "Dear Frankie" rings true: Frankie is a more perfect deaf person than Audrey Hepburn was a blind woman in "Wait Until Dark." He's so precocious and clever and adorable that Long John Silver might have given up his treasure hunting in favor of father-son fishing trips with him. As for Mortimer, she is so lovely and lovable that anyone could forgive her any deception.

Yet for all its sentimental superficiality, "Dear Frankie" is emotionally affecting, in part because Shona Auerbach, a cinematographer directing her first feature, and writer Andrea Gibb are all too aware of the schmaltz factor and consciously work to avoid the big sappy moments in favor of quieter, revealing, ones.

"Dear Frankie" also injects just the right amount of humor while depicting a rough-hewn, working-class Scotland.

We understand that Frankie recognizes a fairy tale when he sees it, but believes because he wants to, making it easier for us to follow his example.

 


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