Dear Frankie * * * * 1/2
Director: Shona Auerbach.
Screenplay: Andrea Gibb.
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Gerard Butler, Jack McElhone, Mary Riggans, Sharon Small, Sean Brown, Jayd Johnson, Katy Murphy, Cal Macaninch.
After “One More Kiss“, the second instalment of my Scottish trilogy is this highly underrated little gem from first time feature director Shona Auerbach. It’s a film that shows a real delicacy and understanding for human relationships and a sensitive perception of life in general.
Frankie (Jack McElhone) is a 9 year old deaf boy has never met his father. His mother Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) left him years ago but never had the heart to tell her son. Instead, she concocts a story and tells Frankie that his father is working on a ship, sailing around the world. She also sends letters to Frankie, pretending to be his dad in far off places. Her story threatens to come to pieces though when Frankie discovers that his dad’s ship is due to dock at their hometown of Greenock. Instead of telling Frankie the truth, Lizzie employs the services of a stranger (Gerard Butler) to pretend that he’s Frankie’s father.
Every now and again you come across a low-key drama with real depth and honesty that when it’s all over you are left feeling genuinely touched; a tear may even well-up or for that matter fall. This is that type of drama. It’s a film that tugs on the heartstrings but doesn’t use any form of manipulation to do so. It’s just good, honest, storytelling that uses observation and an understanding of life and the heartbreaking complexities therein. It touches on the extent that parents will go to protect their children and also the difficulties faced by broken, impoverished families. What it also does, is put your faith in the kindness of strangers. That being said, this is not a film that’s depressing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a life-affirming story filled with humour as well as pathos and everyone hits just the right note. It’s also a film that could claim to showcase the real charm and charisma of Gerard Butler before he hopped aboard the fame train. He’s an enigmatic presence and delivers a wonderfully subtle turn that gained him a lot more recognition amongst critics and filmgoers alike. The same could be said of Emily Mortimer; she is absolutely superb as a supportive but desperate mother striving to protect her son and further excellent support is delivered by young Jack McElhone as the eponymous and gentle natured Frankie. He doesn’t physically talk throughout the film but we get to hear his thoughts through the letters he writes to his absent and elusive father. It’s through these heartfelt, emotional performances that the film really resonates. That’s not to take away from writer Andrea Gibb’s endearing screenplay or director/cinematographer Shona Auerbach’s sensitive handling of the material though; everyone pulls their weight in capturing just the right tone here. It’s a such a shame that Auerbach hasn’t made a film since as on this evidence, she certainly has the ability and a 15 minute standing ovation at Cannes would further fuel that.
A sweet and poignant little drama with fantastic performances all round. A film with a head and a heart and good feel for the moment.
Next up… “The Angels’ Share“.