Normally feel good family dramas are not my first choice when it comes to selecting a movie to watch. This isn't because I don't enjoy the genre; it's just that more often than not they tend to have a shallow story, forced acting and an overwhelming feeling of preposterousness. When I sat down to watch Dear Frankie, I wasn't quite sure what to expect considering I had never heard of the film before, but I was very pleasantly surprised.
Unlike the usual run of the mill family affair, Dear Frankie an interesting (albeit flawed) story populated with believable characters and a superb cast of actors. Filmed in 2004, this is Shona Auerbach's first credited feature film as director and is a testament to her talent and the heart warming script the movie is based off of. It's kind of funny to say "heart warming" when you consider that the main plot device the movie uses is a mother's attempt to cover up a life long lie to her deaf son.
You see, Lizzie Morrison (Emily Mortimer), her son Frankie (Jack McElhone) and her mother Nell (Mary Riggans) are constantly on the move and haven't settled down anywhere. It's almost as if they are on the run from something, but you don't really find out the motivation for their constant moving until later in the film, so all you know for now is there's no daddy in the picture. If that's the case though why is Frankie writing letters back and forth with his mariner father and why does everything seem hunky dory? The simple answer is that his mother is intercepting the letters and impersonating the boy's father so he doesn't have to know the truth about why he's not there.
While some parents over protect their children, Lizzie takes it to the next level and is borderline paranoid regarding what Frankie knows and what he doesn't. In her mind he's happiest and safest thinking that his father loves him and cares enough to constantly think about him and that's the only plot device running this movie. Sure it doesn't sound involved and things would have turned out fine for Lizzie and company if not for one silly mistake. The name of the boat she picked that Frankie's father is supposed to live and work on actually comes to town, so naturally the boy is excited at the prospect of seeing his dad.
Instead of using this as an opportunity to tell her son the truth, she further perpetrates the lie and even drags a stranger into the picture (Gerard Butler) to pretend to be the kid's father for a day. As ridiculous as you, I or any normal person may think this is, to Lizzie it makes perfect sense and as I said, it's the driving force behind Dear Frankie. Things with the stranger become interesting as Lizzie begins to second guess her decision and doesn't feel comfortable with a guy she doesn't know spending time with her son.
While it's an interesting twist to the story, I find it hard to believe that any mother who protects their child to the extent that Lizzie goes would let her pride and joy spend time with a man she doesn't even know. I guess it's not that far of a stretch from reality though considering how many parents you see on the news that leave their children alone with people they barely know. Either way it's an unlikely scenario and the only conflict the film has going for it, but even so the acting and directing is so good that it makes it believable.
I have to admit that I'm not a sappy guy, but I found Dear Frankie so powerfully acted that it pulled at my emotions and it really made an impact. Gerard Butler gives his best performance yet and really landed a role that was perfect for him, so if you've ever seen him in Timeline, Phantom of the Opera or Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life you'll be pleasantly surprised by his work here. Emily Mortimer nails the part of Lizzie and the roller coaster of emotions she's going through, and Jack McElhone is smart and wonderful as Frankie.
From beginning to end, Dear Frankie is an interesting film that will make you care about its characters, no matter how silly their situation seems at times. If you're the type that loves emotionally driven movies, you'll want to watch this one with a box of tissues handy. Just don't question the mundane aspects of the plot and enjoy it for what it is; a touching story about a boy's dream come true and a mother's attempt to bury the ghosts of the past.
The Dear Frankie DVD comes with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and boasts a competent digital transfer, even though the film has a few minor flaws in its presentation. There are several scenes where the image contains some noticeable grain and the colors can sometimes become slightly saturated, although more often than not it appears to be part of the filming style. At times the video is crystal clear and the film looks sharp, but at others the quality drops off and becomes significantly softer.
The audio for Dear Frankie is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but for all intensive purposes it doesn't make a lot of use of directional sound. It's not like this is the kind of movie that will test the limits of your system, considering it's a slower, more dialogue intensive film anyhow. With thick British and Scottish accents, the vocals come through very crisp, but it mostly comes from the front channels.
The release from Mirimax features a decent number of notable special features, but most of them feel like promotional fluff material instead of solid extras. Aside from these features there is also a (slightly boring) commentary for the film with director Shona Auerbach where she reveals some information about the movie, the filming of Dear Frankie and the cast she worked with. The features on the disc are:
The Story of Dear Frankie – The actors, director and producer talk about some of the fundamentals behind the story and the ideals of the characters. It was a good watch, but didn't provide much useful information regarding the filming process or portions of the story that you wouldn't catch from watching the movie. This feature runs at just under ten minutes.
Deleted Scenes – This special feature gives a look at eight scenes from the cutting room floor, each with optional commentary on the material. The scenes range in length from a few seconds to a couple of minutes, but it's easy to see why they were cut after watching them.
Interview with Director Shona Auerbach – Is a 13 minute interview with questions regarding her involvement with the project and her personal feelings regarding the story. She also goes into some casting detail and other interesting tidbits regarding the film.
Perhaps the movie may revolve around a thin plot structure and it's not very believable, but the job done here by the actors and director really sells the story. Dear Frankie will pull at your emotions and draw you in deeply with the rich characters and style. The video and audio quality may not be top of the line, but considering the material of the film you wouldn't expect the soup-to-nuts treatment. Anyone looking for a touching sentimental story and doesn't mind when their heartstrings are tugged at will enjoy the very memorable Dear Frankie. Recommended
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