DEAR FRANKIE (director: Shona Auerbach; screenwriter: Andrea Gibb; cinematographer: Shona Auerbach; editor: Oral Norrie Ottey; music: Alex Heffes; cast: Emily Mortimer (Lizzie), Gerard Butler (The Stranger), Sharon Small (Marie), Jack McElhone (Frankie), Mary Riggans (Nell, Granny), Jayd Johnson (Catriona), Sean Brown (Ricky Monroe); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Caroline Wood; Miramax; 2004-UK)
“Proves to be heartwarming despite its contrivances and phony attempts at being arty.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A manipulative sweetly sentimental Scottish family drama that has questionable valuables but proves to be heartwarming despite its contrivances and phony attempts at being arty. It’s directed by former cinematographer Shona Auerbach, in her feature film debut, and written by Andrea Gibb.
Single mother Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), her deaf nine-year-old son Frankie (Jack McElhone), and her gruff chain-smoking mom Nell (Mary Riggans), are on the run from Lizzie’s mysterious abusive hubby. As the film opens they move to a new Glasgow address. Frankie knows nothing about his father’s violent history; he receives bogus letters written by mom who has dad as a petty officer aboard the H.M.S. Accra. The sensitive lad keeps a wall map marking the route of the Accra, and excels in geography. Things come to a head when the ship is scheduled to make a quick stopover in Glasgow and the lad expects to see his dad for the first time. Mom visits a pub by the harbor to meet a man to pose as her son’s father for pay. When that fails, Marie (Sharon Small), a sharp-eyed woman who runs a local fish and chips shop, comes to the rescue by having her hunky brother, known as the Stranger (Gerard Butler, acted in “The Phantom of the Opera”), show up at her doorstep and agree to pose as the lad’s father. He’s actually a member of the Accra’s crew, and soon proves to be a superdad who instantly bonds with the lad. The Stranger also has an eye for mom as the two discretely scope each other out and come close to kissing.
The tension mounts as this family trapped by secrets and living in constant fear are left in a vulnerable state, as the mother’s lies are supposedly done in the best interest of the child (also by reading the child’s responses, mom begins to listen to what her child has to say). It all gets resolved with a final surprising plot twist in the third act. The fine acting helps the film from completely crossing over into mawkish territory. McElhone is asked to carry the film, and the kid delivers big time. Though this slice of life drama still leaves open the ethical question of lying to your child as a way of showing you’re a caring mom.
REVIEWED ON 12/9/2005 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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