The Scoop: 2004 PG-13, directed by Shona Auerbach and starring Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone, and Gerard Butler
Summary Capsule: A mom hires a man to play her deaf son’s dad.
Eunice’s Rating: *snuggles DVD box*
Eunice’s Review: For two years now I’ve told myself that I was going to review Dear Frankie for Mother’s Day, and both times (obviously) it didn’t happen. So the other day I introduced my sis in-law to this movie, and it inspired me not to wait another year.
Frankie, his mother Lizzie, and his grandmother have just moved to a port town in Scotland. As we learn from the opening narration of Frankie’s letter to his dad, they move around a lot and suddenly. While unpacking in their new apartment Frankie is sent to the neighboring fish and chip shop to get food, and the grandma asks for cigarettes. When Marie the owner refuses to sell him the cigarettes because he’s only nine, Lizzie comes down to the shop, cuts to the front of the line, and asks if Marie had a problem with Frankie because he’s deaf.
[At this point, Sis goes, “Geeze, lady!”]
It’s an important scene, it sets up the character connections that will lead to events later. More especially, it tells you about the characters, and Dear Frankie is all about the characters. Frankie is a nice easy going boy, his mother is well meaning but defensive, the grandma is endearingly surly, and Marie is a confident sort of person who gets along with everyone.
Marie eventually hires Lizzie to work at the shop. Frankie goes to school and makes a friend and, having been the new deaf kid before, easily puts up with a bratty semi-bully. The whole time Frankie writes letters to his dad, who he hasn’t seen in about eight years because he’s a sailor.
Or is he? It turns out that Lizzie is the one who’s been reading the letters and writing back to Frankie for years. Unfortunately for Lizzie, it turns out the boat she chose for Frankie’s dad is real, and should be pulling into their port soon. Frankie makes a bet with the sort of bully about the dad coming to their football (soccer to us Americans) game.
So now Lizzie is in a pickle. The grandmother tells her that it’s the perfect chance to end the whole charade by telling Frankie the truth. But that would mean telling him his father is really an abusive monster and the reason they’ve been running, taking away the only male figure in his life, also taking away the only way Lizzie has to “hear his voice,” not to mention giving the bully the satisfaction of winning the bet. What she does instead is go out to a bar looking to hire a man to play Frankie’s dad. Marie ends up finding her, and after hearing Lizzie’s story decides to help by getting someone trustworthy for Lizzie.
Enter The Stranger. Lizzie agrees to meet a man that Marie has told her is a sailor, and who we only know as The Stranger. The deal is for The Stranger to play Frankie’s dad for one day, half the money up front half when the day is over. Gerard Butler [Sis, “Oh yesss.”] plays him as a big quiet rough around the edges heart of gold type, and it works. Let me put it this way: I forget he’s Gerard Butler and see the character.
And the acting is what makes this movie work. Everyone acts in a show not tell kind of way, letting their eyes and faces do the job. You can actually see on Emily Mortimer’s face the moment Lizzie realizes the husband hasn’t changed, the grandma, played by Mary Riggans, glaring at The Stranger is one of the best parts of the movie, and when he learns about what the dad did you can see the anger on his face [Sis, “Wow. He looks like he could rip someone apart.”] Where Lizzie could’ve been bitter and the grandma a nagging harpy, they are instead played as understandably overprotecting. The biggest kudos go to Jack McElhone as Frankie, both his acting and the script respect the character and convey intelligence, humor, and love – no small feat for someone who, despite a lot of narration, only has one line of spoken dialogue.
Then there’s just the way everyone interacts with each other, and about that I could just go on and on. Heck I could do that with just the parts between Frankie and The Stranger. But I’ll stick to one scene: Lizzie, Marie, and the grandma are sitting together while Frankie is supposed to be in bed, but he’s watching from behind a decorative window in the apartment as Lizzie sings. He puts his hand on the window so he can “hear” her. It is incredibly touching. [Sis, “Gah! I’m gonna’ cry!”]
While Dear Frankie is on quite a few romance movie lists, it’s not entirely about that, in fact the romance angle is in the background. The acting is put together with simple writing (in the best way), intimate directing, and pretty cinematography to raise up what could’ve been a cliche-fest to tell a story of closure, and protecting and loving family and friends. Even with the heavy plot points the overall feel is warm and hopeful, and the touches of humor help keep it from getting too sappy.
And all that is why it is one of my Top Ten movies.
- Longest pre-kiss scene ever?
- “Lizzie’s song” is country western song ‘Great White Horse,’ first recorded by Buck Owens & Susan Raye in 1970. While you can’t find the version in the movie anywhere, Mimi Farina and Tom Jans recorded a folk version in 1971 that’s pretty close to the movie one.
- MAJOR SPOILER!
NO REALLY BIG HUGE SPOILER!!
MUY GRANDE SPOILER!!!
So the question at the end is, how did Frankie know? My theory is, is that Frankie read Lizzie and The Stranger’s lips at the dance hall. Hence the whole point of Frankie not dancing with the girl to watch them. But that’s just my theory.
Lizzie: I was looking for a man. A stranger. No past, no present, no future.
Lizzie: Who the hell do you think you are? Who gave you the right to come in here and behave like this?
The Stranger: You did.
The Stranger: You have to trust somebody someday.
Lizzie: You don’t have to say nice things to me. I’m not paying you for that.
The Stranger: So why don’t you want to hear them?
Lizzie: Frankie wasn’t born deaf. It was a present from his daddy.
Lizzie: I’m his mother and I lie to him every single day.
The Stranger: No. No, you protect him every single day.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Benny & Joon
- Truly, Madly, Deeply