A lonely young mother and her deaf son just might find happiness after meeting an enigmatic stranger in Dear Frankie, one of the best dramas I’ve seen so far this year. Well-cast and directed with loving care by first-time feature director Shona Auerbach, this touching film tugs on your heartstrings and won’t let go, even after the end credits roll.
Emily Mortimer (Disney's The Kid) and newcomer John McElhone seem so real as Lizzie, the mom, and Frankie, her 9 year-old son, that it’s almost impossible to think of them as actors. Absolutely superb in the role of a man hired to pretend he’s Frankie’s father for just one day, Gerard Butler oozes even more machismo and mystery here than he did in Phantom of the Opera. And Sharon Small (from TV’s Inspector Lynley Mysteries) projects a captivating effervescence as the deli owner who helps Frankie’s mother hire the handsome stranger. Finally, portraying Frankie’s grandmother, Maggie Riggans adds edginess to the film’s intriguing story (from Andrea Gibb’s screenplay) by hovering over everyone in each of her scenes.
Because Frankie has been told his father is a naval petty officer sailing around the world, he writes charming letters to his absent dad. In return, the boy receives newsy letters back. But it’s really his mom who’s answering these letters. When Lizzie learns that the ship Frankie’s dad is supposed to be serving on will be docking near their home, she’s forced into finding someone who will pretend to be Frankie’s father. With her friend’s (Small) assistance, she recruits a man (Butler) who agrees to the fee she’s willing to pay.
Naturally, a poignant relationship develops between Frankie and the imposter -- and a budding romantic one between Lizzie and the stranger. Thanks to director Auerbach’s sensitive touch, one scene involving a kiss (between Lizzie and her hired hand) takes a long time to unfold, but it’s a beauty. In fact, the entire movie looks quite lovely and seems to complement one character’s statement that “we are all connected.” Set in Glasgow, Scotland, there’s a timeless quality about Dear Frankie -- which probably comes from the use of special lighting and an unusual color palette. Credit Auerbach again; she also did the eye-catching cinematography.
DVD bonus features include: “The Story of Dear Frankie;” director commentary; extended and deleted scenes; and a fascinating interview with filmmaker Auerbach. I found it both enlightening and enjoyable to hear this promising new director talk about why she made the film, how she cast it, and her approach to cinematography. My prediction? No crystal ball needed for this one, folks. After all, Dear Frankie has already garnered numerous awards at various film festivals this year. Obviously, we can look forward to many more outstanding cinematic contributions from Shona Auerbach.
(Released by Miramax and Walt Disney Home Video; rated “PG” for language. Bonus items not rated.)