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Dear Frankie

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: April 15, 2005 | Publication: Post-Dispatch | Author: Harper Barnes

Posted by: admin

Gerard Butler and Jack McElhone in Dear Frankie.

The motion pictures we get from abroad tend to be films - as in "art films" - not movies, as in "OK, it's not 'Hiroshima mon amour,' but it's quite touching and skillfully entertaining, in the manner of a Frank Capra flick."

So when a sweet and unpretentious movie like "Dear Frankie" comes to us from across the pond, the story of a deaf kid who writes letters to a father who may not actually exist, audiences may love it, but critics, a sleazy and cynical lot at best, sometimes apply art-film standards and judge the feature to be just too sappy for words - other than, perhaps, these, from Stephen Holden of The New York Times:

"A fraudulent yarn riddled with plot holes and improbabilities and topped by a cynical final twist that pulls the rug out from under the story."

Well, sure. The movie has its sentimental and manipulative moments, but the script also has its subtleties and enriching dissonances. The audience at last year's St. Louis International Film Festival, people who actually buy tickets to watch motion pictures from foreign lands, judged "Dear Frankie" to be the festival's best feature, and most critics, including this one, have given it a thumbs-up.

Young Jack McElhone does a remarkable job as Frankie, 9, a deaf boy in Glasgow who lives with his mother and grandmother. Frankie writes letters to his father, who, he has been told, is off at sea. He gives the letters to his mother to mail. She keeps them and writes replies, pretending to be the missing father.

Then, one day, Frankie reads that his father's ship is coming into Glasgow, and he becomes so excited by the prospect that his mother, played in a very effectively low-key manner by Emily Mortimer, arranges through a friend for a man she has never met to pretend to be the father.

One of the enriching complications of the movie comes as we realize that the mother takes comfort from communicating with her deaf son through the fraudulent letters, and in some almost subconsciously selfish way may actually cherish the fact that he cannot really communicate with anyone else.

When Gerard Butler, the actor who also starred in the movie version of "The Phantom of the Opera," shows up as the surrogate father, she feels understandably threatened.

Butler's character, ruggedly handsome, tough but kind and soft-spoken, would be any lost boy's dream father, and his appearance marks the moment in the movie when a viewer will either go with the story or decide it's unbelievable.

Young director-cinematographer Shona Auerbach keeps the story honest through unpretentious dialogue and the fearless use of long stretches with very little being said or done. Meanwhile, her camera lingers on the faces of the characters and on the stark northern seaport setting, with gulls soaring above the cranes and warehouses of heavy industry.

"Dear Frankie" may not be a great film, but it's a good movie. It's sentimental at times, but the realistic tone of the acting combined with the funky radiance of the cinematography make it clearly superior to the average product of Hollywood.

"Dear Frankie"
*** (out of four)
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Running time: 1:45


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