The family drama Dear Frankie could be considered a relative to Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore as Martin Scoresese might attest to. Shona Auerbach’s film is intimate and rather heartfelt, but hardly maudlin in giving atmosphere to coastal Scotland.
Emily Mortimer (Lovely & Amazing) is the mother to 9-year-old deaf son Frankie (Jack McElhone). They are again on the move with her mother, an uptight Mary Riggans to elude her ex-husband. Frankie is quiet precocious especially when to one stuck-up kid in school who writes “Def Boy” on his desk. The bleak northern port setting acts like a character in Andrea Gibb’s screenplay carved from honesty into problems that adults create for themselves.
Obviously, Lizzie looks after Frankie quite closely and keeps him happy by writing letters making him believe that his father is a merchant seaman traveling the world. This sensitively though out tale turns on the explanation of his dad working on a ship (the Accra) that soon will dock in the town of their new flat, Greenock. Mum is faced with a problem (she collects all of Frankie’s letters, of course) and with the help of a new close friend (Sharon Small), a nameless Scottish sailor (Gerard Butler) turns out to be more than Lizzie could imagine.
Dear Frankie often works with intelligent introspection as Auerbach graduates from doing photography for commercials having started out as a still photographer. The key relationship between Lizzie and Frankie has a lot to offer audiences because of the personal struggles they face. Mortimer and McElhone both had less to do in Young Adam, but made the most of their scenes. Here they shine throughout providing interesting characters that have an earnest quality about them that is affecting. McElhone does a fine job of not letting his affliction awkwardly stand out.
Auerbach keeps the somewhat contrived proceedings well-modulated that speaks to the feelings (often on the light side) around Lizzie and Frankie and the importance of continuing the correspondence with his dad. Butler (The Phantom of the Opera) exhibits a quiet strength that adds to the film’s provocative and subtle power. The ending is open but realistic and the movie always engages like the Scoresese film with its gritty, nuance qualities and human touch it holds dear.