Dir:Shona Auerbach. UK. 2004. 105mins
Itis unfortunate, but Dear Frankie is a perfectly good film that tells astory which has been seen too many times before. It is the eternal search ofthe child for a missing parent, accompanied by poverty and a curmudgeonlygrandparent with a heart of gold.
Thatsaid, Dear Frankie, which is set in a Scottish town on the coast, doescontain some powerful moments and a few unique touches. Most importantlythough, generally superior acting, along with the powerful physical presence ofchild actor Jack McElhone, rescue a so-so script from oblivion. The film, whichpremiered in Un Certain Regard, should be the beneficiary of a theatricalrelease in most territories, as well as success in ancillary markets.
LikeValentin in the recent Argentinian film of the same name, who was cross-eyed,the nine-year-old Frankie (McElhone) features a handicap, this time deafness.
In anice twist, the unfolding tale is toldin a voiceover - almost the only time we hear Frankie's voice. His plucky mumLizzie (Mortimer) regularly moves him and his grandmother, as we eventuallylearn, to keep the family from the clutches of Frankie's abusive father.Because Frankie longs so powerfully for a dad, Lizzie regularly sends himletters, as his rogue father, detailing his life as a sailor and spinningcolourful tales of travels.
Whena ship, coincidentally bearing the same name as the ship Lizzie has imaginedfor Frankie's dad, docks in town, Frankie's bullying classmate (yes, a stock intrade for a film like this) bets Frankie that his dad won't show up.
Desperateto keep her son's imaginary world from collapsing, Lizzie goes so far as toconvince a stranger to pretend to be Frankie's father, with predictable andemotionally powerful consequences.
An interestingpiece of side plotting is that the more Lizzie gets Frankie interested in thisfabricated world, the more she drives him to idolise his father and resent her.At one point she screams at him in frustration: "I'm the one that's stillhere!"
Evenbetter are the scenes related to the choice of the father's stand-in and hissubsequent meeting with Frankie. Gerard Butler as The Stranger is notparticularly good when he has lines to deliver later on in the film, butearlier as the strong, silent type he is forceful enough.
Everymember of the audience will be on the edge of their chair in the scene in whichFrankie meets him for the first time. Will Frankie fall for the ruse or not'
Asidefrom the familiarity of the characters and the situation, the film is alsohampered by some inconsistencies in the plot and characterisation. Furthermore,near the end, first-time director Shona Auerbach reveals some nervousness abouther material and moves toward full-blown melodrama with, yes, even a deathbedscene in a hospital.
Still,while Dear Frankie contains little interest for a sophisticated art filmcrowd, most audiences will throw such learned scruples to the wind andemotionally connect with thiswell-executed film.
Prod co: Scorpio Films
Int'l sales: Pathe
Exec prods: Stephen Evans, Angus Finney, FrancoisIvernel, Cameron McCracken, Duncan Reid
Prod: Caroline Wood
Scr: Andrea Gibb
Cine: Shona Auerbach
Ed: Oral Nottie Ottey
Music: Alex Heffes
Main cast: Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone, Sharon Small, Gerard Butler