Film Review – Dear Frankie

Directed: Shona Auerbach

Writer:  Andrea Gibb 

Starring:  Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone, Gerard Butler

Trivia: The song that plays while Lizzie is sitting on a bench crying after a fruitless attempt to find a “daddy” for Frankie, is written by one of the most famous contemporary Estonian composer – Arvo Pärt.

You know how you have that one small movie, that no one ever heard about, that you are totally in love with, and no matter how much you try to convince your friends and family how good it is, no one sees what you see in the movie? And then imagine after years that you try to convince people how great that movie is, you read that other experts think its also a gem, isn’t that a fantastic feeling?

That’s what happened to me when I read Lucy V Hay’s book “Writing and Selling Drama” where she took Dear Frankie as a Case Study and in her distinctive way showed how unique it.

It was as if finally I got a proof that what I always thought about the movie was true and not just my own personal taste, but much deeper than that.

This heartwarming film concerns Lizzie, (excellent Emily Mortimer) a mother who makes up a fictitious back-story about her son’s brutal father.

She tells nine-year-old Frankie (Jack McElhone) that his father has been away for years on a long sailing trip. Frankie writes to his father to a PO Box, which Lizzie picks up and writes back in the guise of his father twice a month.

When the ship in question comes to port nearby, the mother feels forced to hire a stranger (Gerard Butler) to pose as Frankie’s absentee father to spare him the less-than-ideal truth

The success of such a movie depends on the attention that is put into the details that make up the characters, scenery and atmosphere.

The director, Shona Auerbach, and her writer, Andrea Gibb, made sure that we would be able to see the whole story through the detail.
We see Lizzie, Frankie and his grandmother not as archetypes in a formula, but as very particular, cautious, wounded people, living just a step above poverty, precariously shielding themselves from a violent past.

One of the unique things in this movie is how voiceover is being used. Voiceover is one of those divisive tools that are risky to use.

But in this specific movie it has a place and is a great example on WHEN can we use voice over. Frankie is deaf and having his voice over telling us the story from his POV allows us to get into his world, which is a silent one.

Silence is one big theme in this movie. There is a shot toward the end of Dear Frankie when a man and a woman stand on either side of a doorway and look at each other, just simply look at each other. During this time they say nothing, and yet everything they need to say is communicated: Their doubts, cautions, hopes.

Every once in a long while, a director and actors will discover, or rediscover, the dramatic power of silence and time. This bold long shot near the end of Dear Frankie allows the film to move straight as an arrow toward its emotional truth, without a single word or plot manipulation to distract us.

While they are looking at each other, we are looking at them, and for a breathless, true moment, we are all looking at exactly the same fact.

What eventually happens, while not entirely unpredictable, benefits from close observation, understated emotions, unspoken feelings, and the movie’s tact; it doesn’t require its characters to speak about their feelings simply so that we can hear them. That tact is embodied in the shot I started out by describing: Lizzie and the Stranger looking at each other.

Although movies are moving pictures, it doesn’t mean they always have to be moving. This scene is infinitely more effective than all the countless conventional ways of obtaining the same result.

On top of all that, the acting is powerful. As the protective mother, Emily Mortimer is wonderful, conveying warmth and humanity.

Jack McElhone is effective as Frankie, developing his character with a sense of irony and a pragmatic life-view. This is not one of those disabled individuals who suffers from a case of terminal cuteness.

As the stranger, Gerard Butler shows tenderness beneath a seemingly callous exterior. The fact that we believe in this trio (as well as Mary Riggans as Frankie’s grandmother goes a long ways towards making the storyline believable and authentic.

So, if you haven’t seen it yet, get the DVD (or any other ways) and know that this touching film will pull on your heartstrings and won’t let go, even after the end credits roll.

Verdict 5/5 Stars in my book

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