The way the logline read for “Dear Frankie”, I was expecting one of those wacky “British” romantic-comedies. What I found instead, was a nicely told family drama. First time feature director Shona Auerbach masterfully walks the delicate line of telling a sentimental story, without ever getting sappy.
When we first meet Frankie his family is making the move to a town on the coast of Scottland. It appears that his Mom Lizzie and Grandma Nell are old pros at this game. In fact they’ve done it many times; they are continually running away from something yet unknown. Frankie, a deaf nine year old boy, seasons it well and goes comfortably right into a new school. Lizzie gets a job at a fish & chips shop and everything seems somewhat stable.
We soon learn that Frankie has been writing letters to his dad on a ship out to sea. But in fact it is his mother who has been responding. It is the only way she gets to “hear his voice.” A wrench gets thrown into her plan when Frankie learns that his dad’s ship is coming into dock in a couple of days. Not wanting give away her secret, Lizzie comes up with the idea of finding a man to play Frankie’s dad for a day. Her friend Marie introduces her to a mystery man. Lizzie doesn’t want to know about his past, present or future; it’s merely a business transaction for her. But obviously it is more than that. This is something that could seriously affect Frankie and the whole family. Where it goes from here, I was pleasantly surprised. It is all handled realistically; it was nice to see the filmmakers not stooping to any clichés.
The way the characters are portrayed was what I most appreciated about this film. Frankie, while being deaf, is never shown as handicapped. He’s a bright young boy, with a great personality. Young Jack McElhone, without saying a thing, does a wonderful job playing Frankie. Emily Mortimer plays Lizzie just right, strong and confident on the outside, a scared little girl on the inside. Gerard Butler plays a great surrogate dad, with the right amount empathy. It was nice to see Gerard actually act, as his last couple films; “Tomb Raider 2” and “Timeline” were completely empty. There are also some nice performances from Frankie’s friends (Sean Brown & Jayd Johnson), Lizzie’s friend Marie (Sharon Small) and Grandma Nell (Mary Riggans). All around the characters felt real.
While the film isn’t completely perfect, director and cinematographer Shona Auerbach shows that she’s a great new filmmaking talent. It’ll be nice to watch where her work takes her.