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Real people, real instincts make 'Frankie' feel right

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: April 14, 2005 | Publication: TRIBUNE-REVIEW | Author: Ed Blank
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Since you may only have a week or so to catch it, you might consider prioritizing a warm, humane Scottish movie called "Dear Frankie."
There isn't any hype. You won't see anyone huckstering the film on Letterman, Oprah or Leno.

"Dear Frankie" engenders word of mouth like, "Trust me. Just go."

It's a picture with characters you'd probably want to know and one you surely want to protect as a letdown looms.

For just a day, the 28-year-old Lizzie Morrison (Emily Mortimer) needs someone to portray her husband, a rotter who abused her and their deaf mute son Frankie Morrison (Jack McElhone), who is 9.

"Frankie wasn't born deaf," she says. "It was a gift from his dad."

For years, she has moved regularly in and around Glasgow to keep the husband (Cal Macaninch) away from her and the boy. Her chain-smoking mother, Nell (Mary Riggans), has moved in with them to help Lizzie maintain her resolve to avoid him.

For Frankie's sake, Lizzie has lived with a big white lie -- that the father is a merchant seaman unable to visit his family even occasionally.

She maintains the lie by writing letters to Frankie, supposedly from the dad, and intercepting the boy's responses -- the sort of benevolent deception fostered in the French "I Sent a Letter to My Love" and the multi-national "Since Otar Left ..."

When finally a freighter arrives bearing the name of the vessel Lizzie had been using -- the Accra, Frankie's expectations soar. A father needs to materialize.

Neighbor Marie (Sharon Small), who runs a fish and chips shop, recommends Lizzie hire someone identified only as The Stranger (Gerard Butler of "The Phantom of the Opera") to improvise the role.

Elements in "Dear Frankie" follow a predictable arc, but the beauty of the film, directed by Shona Auerbach from Andrea Gibb's screenplay, lies in its particulars, in the way the premise plays out.

They approach situations as real people might experience them.

One of the upsides of Lizzie's charade is that the letters Frankie writes his dad contain a perspective that he never articulates to her. And she can't help feeling resentful that the boy identifies with his idealized father in ways he can't with her -- even though she's manufacturing the father.

"Dear Frankie" has an aspect of fable wrapped around hard-luck realities. It satisfies because of the way it develops rooting interests and finesses late-breaking developments.

Its characters are imperfect, but they have good instincts. Like most of the people we know.

 


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