Nine-year-old Frankie and his single mum Lizzie have been on the move ever since Frankie can remember, most recently arriving in a seaside Scottish town. Wanting to protect her deaf son from the truth that they've run away from his father, Lizzie has invented a story that he is away at sea on the HMS Accra. Every few weeks, Lizzie writes Frankie a make-believe letter from his father, telling of his adventures in exotic lands. As Frankie tracks the ship's progress around the globe, he discovers that it is due to dock in his hometown. With the real HMS Accra arriving in only a fortnight, Lizzie must choose between telling Frankie the truth or finding the perfect stranger to play Frankie's father for just one day... Written by
"Dear Frankie" is a heart-tugging family romance with decidedly non-Hollywood touches that add to its charm and poignancy.
We are swept into both sides of an unusual epistolary relationship -- one between a mother and son, as each takes on alternative identities to communicate, and we get to hear their adopted voices as well.
The son is an isolated deaf kid who won't talk but pours out his heart in letters, while his fiercely protective mother pretends to be his fictional seagoing dad in response. We are drawn into their parallel stories from each perspective, as their defensively claustrophobic relationship has an outlet in this fictional geography as they gradually start dealing with the real world.
Emily Mortimer combines strength and naked vulnerability, as she did in "About Adam" and "Lovely and Amazing," while the son is captivating in an almost mimed role without being as treacly as the kid playing Peter in "Finding Neverland." Debut director Shona Auerbach keeps the movie tethered to reality with evocative use of Glasgow and its active port. We are anchored in a working class bloke territory that becomes a rocky shore for an untethered single mom living with her mother and her kid. This is tellingly symbolized when Mortimer braves a rough waterfront bar.
And then re-emphasized in a hotel tea parlor whose atmosphere electrically changes the minute rugged Gerard Butler pops up on screen. Epitomizing that cinematic manliness that is so talked about as lacking from most American actors these days, Butler's absolutely authentic masculinity instantly telescopes what this mother and child have been missing, and not just his sexual gravitas. Butler movingly demonstrates how a guy's guy plays paternal through such simple things as football, skipping stones, eating and of course dancing.
I don't know if I missed the clues to the concluding twists, but Hollywood would never let these lovely mysteries be, let alone as an achingly long look into each's eyes.
It's nice to see faces from Scottish TV shows in atypical roles, Sharon Small deservedly having a steady boyfriend on screen for a change, and Cal Macaninch, the nice guy from "Rockface" as the not nice guy here.
The Scots accents are thick and I did miss some punch lines in the dialog here and there.
The song selections are lovely, including a Damien Rice track that hasn't been overused yet.
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