Deaf mute nine year-old Frankie (Jack McElhone) and his single mum, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), have been on the move ever since Frankie can remember, most recently arriving in a Scottish seaside town near Glasgow. Wanting to protect her deaf son from the truth that they've run away from his father, Lizzie has been writing letters, supposedly from his father, telling of his adventures in exotic lands as a sailor on the HMS Accra. Frankie tracks the ship's progress around the globe, and he learns that it is due to dock in his hometown. Now Lizzie must chose between telling Frankie the truth or finding a stand in, a stranger (Gerard Butler), to play Frankie's father for just one day.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Don't be mislead by the romantic poster/key art: with its resolutely downbeat tone, from subject matter to treatment to visuals to music, Dear Frankie seems to have been constructed to maximise its cloying elements, with so many pieces fitting partly into place in the resolution. This takes away from the validity and appeal of the theme, because we need to invest heavily in the film for much of its running time before we start getting any emotional payoffs or storyline explanations. And they are meagre.
The screenplay has been packed with what appear to be carefully orchestrated tear jerking elements, from a small boy who's deaf, a single mum whose (absent) husband is painted as a demon, the two of them moving from place to place in a mysterious chase, a tall dark and handsome stranger playing dad, but becoming a loving father figure, his time cut short by the unexplained need to disappear, and the use of a merchant navy ship as the vessel carrying the boy's father away from him - are just some of them.
Into this manufactured world, reality is seen only as a reflection, and the principal characters are given none of the personalities of real people, while the events all seem staged. Yet there is an emotional pull to the film's essential elements, and the performances - proscribed as they are by the script - maintain some interest.
Gerard Butler (he of Phantom of the Opera movie fame) is a likeable and charismatic stranger whose warmth and sincerity shine as a beacon in an otherwise bleak character landscape, although Sharon Small as Lizzie's friend who introduces him to Lizzie, is also excellent. Emily Mortimer struggles to make us care for her irritatingly negative Lizzie, and Jack McElhone as Frankie is less a character than a device.
I also liked Lizzie's long suffering mum Nell, played by Mary Riggans. These are small rewards, though, and the film's mistaken resistance to allow the romance between the stranger and Lizzie to fully bloom deprives it of a decent crescendo, when that was all it was going to give us to take home, as a reward for sitting through the clichees.
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DEAR FRANKIE (M)
CAST: Emily Mortimer, Gerard Butler, Jack McElhone, Sharon Small, Mary Riggans, Jayd Johnson, Sean Brown
PRODUCER: Caroline Wood
DIRECTOR: Shona Auerbach
SCRIPT: Andrea Gibb
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Shona Auerbach
EDITOR: Oral Norrie Ottey
MUSIC: Alex Heffes
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jennifer Kernke
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 21, 2005
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: BVHE
VIDEO RELEASE: August 17, 2005