Dear Frankie

Reviewed By Beth Gilligan
Posted 03/08/05 15:37:30

"Strong performances bolster a contrived script."
3 stars (Just Average)

Fresh off one of last year’s most side-splitting comedies (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera), actor Gerard Butler shifts into brooding, dramatic mode, playing a handsome stranger whose appearance disrupts the life of Scottish single mom Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) and her deaf nine-year old son, Frankie (Jack McElhone).

For years, Lizzie and Frankie have led a transient life, moving from place to place in hopes that they will never be located by Frankie’s abusive father. Intensely protective of her son, Lizzie has never had the heart to tell him about his father’s true nature; instead, she has concocted a lie that threatens to spin out of control at any given moment. As far as Frankie knows, his father is a sailor whose travels around the globe don’t prevent him from writing long, affectionate letters to his son. The truth is decidedly more complicated: the letters from Frankie’s dad have all been penned by Lizzie, who picks them up at a post office box in another town.

While this charade has been happily carried on for years, trouble arises when Frankie spies a newspaper article announcing the impending arrival of his father’s ship. Panicked, Lizzie turns to a friend, who gives her the contact information for a man (Butler) who may be willing to pose as Frankie’s dad for a day or two. However, complications arise when Frankie’s real dad resurfaces, and Lizzie begins to develop an affection for the mysterious stranger.

Throughout its 102 minute running time, Dear Frankie walks a precarious line between sentimentality and darkness. To director Shona Auerbach’s credit, it never dissolves into the fairy tale or the melodrama it has the potential to become. Although the script is at times contrived, the conviction the actors bring to their respective roles elevates the material. Emily Mortimer is especially affecting in her rendering of a woman who has spent years building walls around herself, only to see them topple one by one.

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