Sunday, December 04, 2005

Dear Frankie

2004, United Kingdom, directed by Shona Auerbach

Dear Frankie is a sweet-natured little fable in the middle of a typically British kitchen-sink setting - in this case, working class Glasgow. Frankie is a deaf nine-year-old who lives with his mother and grandmother, and who believes that his father is a sailor on a merchant ship by the name of the Accra. He writes letters to his absent dad, and receives replies filled with exotic details and carefully-chosen stamps. The wrinkle, however, is that the letters are written by his mother, who is unwilling to share the truth, that Frankie's dad is a rotten piece of work, whom she fears. Inevitably, the real Accra eventually shows up in Glasgow and, in a panic, Frankie's mum has to hire a stranger to play the part of a father for a day. The story suffers from a few too many holes - even in the circumstances, it's hard to understand why Frankie's mum sustains the fiction for as long as she does, nor does Frankie's deafness serve much more than a symbolic purpose - but there is considerable charm in the details of Glasgow life, which appears to centre on the chipper and the pub, and in an array of fine, nuanced performances, from Emily Mortimer (as Frankie's mother), Mary Riggans (as the grandmother) and the charming Gerard Butler, as the one-day dad, to single out only the most prominent (Jack McElhone is fine as Frankie, although he mostly just has to look appealing, since he has but one line). Director Shona Auerbach keeps the film grounded enough to avoid an excess of sweetness, with an ending that, plot quibbles aside, seems true and satisfying.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States