When I first read the overly-sentimental plot of Shona Auerbach’s 2004 film Dear Frankie, I thought that there was no way in hell that I was going to enjoy this film. Sentimental films and I just don’t get along- it’s a sad fact since a good many Hollywood dramas heavily rely on this tactic, but I’ve learned to accept it. Imagine my surprise, however, when it turns out that Dear Frankie isn’t as bad as I predicted. The beginning is a bit rocky, full of every single-mother-who-won’t-settle-down cliché in the book. We see Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), her deaf son Frankie (of course he has a physical handicap- nothing like bludgeoning the audience to death) and her mom packing up their belongings and we get the feeling that this has become the norm for this family. And just when you think the parallels between this and every Tumbleweed and Chocolat-esque film you’ve ever seen are unending, Auerbach also throws in the Mask scene in which Lizzie insists to Frankie’s teacher that "she doesn’t want him treated any differently" because he’s deaf and "there’s nothing wrong with his brain."
But I’m digressing. The whole point of the film lies in the fact that Lizzie has been sending letters to Frankie, pretending to be his father away at sea (Frankie’s father is really an abusive prick who’s trying to avoid). This trick has worked for years, until one of Frankie’s classmates tells him that his father’s ship will be docking in town and Frankie becomes really anxious to meet his father. Lizzie, being the good, nurturing mother that she is, has to go out and find a stranger to pretend to be Frankie’s father (What mother wouldn’t do that for her child?).
It turns out that Lizzie’s boss knows a man who would be perfect for the job. Enter a hunky Gerard Butler (the man from both The Phantom of the Opera and 300) and it seems like our problem is solved. In my head, however, this scene in which these two characters meet is one of the biggest problems in the whole film. As Lizzie explains the situation to Butler, we realize how preposterous this idea is (I think even Lizzie realizes it) and that this situation would only work in a movie. In real life, any normal person would probably run off to call the loony bin to come capture Lizzie because she is freaking nuts. Naturally, in the movie world, this doesn’t happen and we must suspend disbelief for a little while.
So Frankie and the Gerard Butler character (he’s never really given a name) meet and eventually (or should I say predictably) Butler comes to love Frankie like he popped him out of his uterus within a few measly hours. With his "father’s" strength behind him, Frankie becomes good at football and even blocks a ball at one point for dear old daddy. Even Lizzie seems to be falling for him, but his leave is coming to an end and he’s forced to bid adieu to the family.
The film doesn’t end there, but I really feel that it can’t all be summarized in one rant. If you really want to know, go out and rent the film because for all of my bitching about it, Dear Frankie is actually a pretty decent film. Its sentimentality is more of the British stiff-upper-lip variety instead of the so-unsubtle-it’s-annoying American variety, so that makes the film go down a lot easier. Emily Mortimer is pretty solid as Lizzie, not exactly award-worthy, but another fine performance to add to Bright Young Things and Match Point. If your type of film is a quiet, character-driven melodrama with out any of the histrionics, then go seek out Dear Frankie. If not, at least it’s better than sitting through your average Hollywood crap.
My Rating: *** ½
My Rating: *** ½