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Endearing tale holds its course

Category: Dear Frankie Reviews
Article Date: April 15, 2005 | Publication: Miami Herald | Author: CONNIE OGLE
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In the sweet and melancholy Dear Frankie, single mom Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) keeps up a logistically tricky subterfuge that could never work in modern life. She writes and mails letters to her deaf 9-year-old son Frankie, pretending they are from his seafaring father. She sends the boy stamps and affection, describing the weather off Cape Horn and the various other ports of call that Dad is supposed to be visiting.

Frankie, who loves everything to do with the ocean, writes back diligently and tracks his dad's travels on a giant map. Meanwhile, Lizzie moves Frankie and her long-suffering mother around Scotland, apparently on the run from something that makes her happiness as dingy as the light that struggles to filter into her shadowy apartment.

Then the newspaper reports that Dad's ship will be docking at Glasgow, and Lizzie sets out to find a guy to impersonate Frankie's father for a day. She settles on a handsome stranger (Gerard Butler, last seen stalking Emmy Rossum as everybody's favorite masked sociopath in The Phantom of the Opera) who seems to have a troubled past of his own.

Dear Frankie is a film about secrets, lies and the redemptive possibility of forgiveness, and it will cause your heart to ache more than a little, not only because of the cherubic face of young Jack McElhone, who acts with an otherworldly grace. The time period in which the distinctly old-fashioned film is set seems unclear. No one seems to have a telephone, TV or access to a computer, but kids perform the macarena at a community gathering. Still, the film's quietly intimate moments glisten, always cleanly defining the warmth and humanity of its characters.

The truth, of course, is that Lizzie needs the letters more than her son requires the reassurance provided by them. ''It's the only way I can hear his voice,'' she explains sadly, knowing how pathetic she sounds. The delicate Mortimer, last seen as a brash socialite in Bright Young Things, radiates apprehension and uncertainty as a woman trying to protect her son from ugly truths, and through her tangible pain, you ache for Lizzie even though she continues to lie to her son.

The film's overall mood is dark and somber, but director Shona Auerbach occasionally bathes the characters' faces with light, underlining their essential goodness, and screenwriter Andrea Gibb never provides quite the story you anticipate. You might expect kids at Frankie's new school to torment him, but he sagely befriends the class wiseguy. You might long for an unambiguous cheerful ever-after for Frankie and his mum, but even that may be out of reach. Dear Frankie is a small movie with a big soul and no easy formula for the happiness of its big-hearted characters.

Cast: Emily Mortimer, Gerard Butler, Jack McElhone, Mary Riggans.

Director: Shona Auerbach.

Screenwriter: Andrea Gibb.

Producer: Caroline Wood.

A Miramax release. Running time: 105 minutes. Language. Playing at: In Miami-Dade: Kendall, South Beach; in Broward: Sunrise; in Palm Beach: Carefree.

 


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