Lizzie Morrison, (Emily Mortimer), her nine and a half year-old son, Frankie, (Jack McElhone ), and her chain-smoking mother Nell, (Mary Riggans), have moved to a small seaside town near Glasgow, Scotland, to elude Lizzie's husband, Frankie's father. They have been on the move now for nine years, never staying long in one place. The small family of three are held together by love, which is palpable, and also by a web of lies which were originally invented to protect their most vulnerable member, the child. Frankie, who is hearing impaired, believes his father is a merchant marine seaman and writes to him faithfully, tracking the progress of his ship, the Accra, as it travels the world.
In fact, the boy is really corresponding with his mother. Lizzie encourages him to write his dad and then she intercepts the letters, responds to them and mails them, often enclosing international postage stamps for the child's prized collection. Frankie's letters, and the one's from his "father" are mailed to a central PO box which Lizzie rents whenever they move to a new place.
Major problems surface when Frankie discovers that his dad's cargo ship, the Accra, (which really does exist, to Lizzie's great surprise), will be in port for a few days. He agonizes over whether his father will come to visit him. And Lizzie is besides herself with what to do. Marie, (Sharon Small), a new family friend, lends a helping hand in the form of a stranger - a sailor home on leave, played by Gerard Butler, who, for a fee, will stand in as dad for a day.
The movie was filmed in and around Glasgow and the grittiness of the city, the sea, dunes, the port and ships, and the distant hills create a somewhat melancholy atmosphere. The coming and going of vessels reminds one of the transience of people and places. The scenery is not unattractive, but it is far from the picture postcard version of Scotland one usually views. Although all the actors speak with a Scottish accent, I had no trouble understanding them, which is unusual.
Auerbach's pace is far from hurried. Alex Heffes's spare piano score is beautifully low-keyed and helps keep the emotion to scale. Mortimer is magnificent as Lizzie. She loves her son unconditionally, but in reality she has been given short shrift in her young life, and responsibilities, stress, and worry weigh her down. There is a moment when her face lights up gloriously, like a child's, when she hears a favorite song on a rare night out. My reaction was that it took so little to give her such joy. On another occasion, when she and Butler stand in the doorway, shy, wanting to kiss, tension builds, but quietly, before their lips finally touch. And there are unforgettable moments between mother and son. Bright-eyed Jack McElhone communicates so much with just a look or a gesture. And then there is Gerard Butler, who I would happily watch and listen to if he were reading the telephone book. He is simply the most charismatic leading man out there today.
The extras include a twelve minite audio commentary with director Shona Auerbach who presents good, cogent explanations of what she was was trying to accomplish in each scene. The nine-minute featurette, "The Story of Dear Frankie," includes the actors, producer, and director discussing the origins of the film and their roles in its production. There are also eight deleted scenes, with optional director commentary, etc.. English and French spoken languages are options as are Spanish subtitles, and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Overall, this is a film well worth seeing. Highly recommended!
The relationship between Frankie and the stranger who is hired by his mother to play his father for one day is very believable and very moving. The stranger, a sceptic at the outset, becomes emotionally involved and while at first he does not think much of Frankie's mother for doing this, ends up respecting her and so do we, the audience. Personally, I felt I did not like Frankie's mother at first, as her motives seem unclear. We learn about her motives with the stranger, and that's when my sympathy shifted.
I was also particularly impressed by the stranger's emotion in the scene where he meets Frankie: he needs to be believable, and he is very tense wondering if he has done well. I felt the tension with him. Gerald Butler is wonderful, looking handsome, tall, and reassuring, the father figure Frankie really needs.
There are so many touching moments I will let you discover for yourselves, as I don't want to spoil it for you. I will just say that the entire movie is full of twists and turns, much more than you'd expect. In the second half a surprise awaits in virtually every scene to the very end , and I also cried at virtually every one of these scenes.
"Dear Frankie" is filmed in Scotland, and features some beautiful scenery. I also enjoyed listening to the Scottish accent used throughout the film.
The additional material includes the director's commentary, to which I have not listened yet, an interview with the director, which I found quite interesting, and some deleted scenes, one of which at least actually reveals some insight into one of the minor characters. I'm thinking it's particularly clever to cut such a scene in the official release, and then add it to the deleted scenes section on the DVD, although I'm not sure this was intentional.
I enjoyed the movie, and I'll certainly want to rewatch it. Even though I now know about all the twists and turns in the plot, it will actually be interesting to follow the range of emotion displayed by this talented cast with all this pre-knowledge in mind.
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