Top positive review
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A Poignant, Superbly Acted Film!
on 4 September 2005
Director Shona Auerbach and writer Andrea Gibbs put together a real winner with their 2004 release, "Dear Frankie," an intelligent and extremely poignant film which I have had on my "must see" list for some time. Powerful performances from an extraordinary ensemble cast of relatively unknown actors are one of the major elements which makes this movie so special. There are some profoundly moving moments here, and absolutely no manipulative sappiness.
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!