I am not sure how many of you know about a British director named Michael Winterbottom (Jude, The Claim, and Code 46). Well if you know him, then you will know what I mean when I say that Dear Frankie is what would happen if Michael Winterbottom made a family film.
The film explores a struggling relationship between a mother, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), and her deaf son, Frankie (Jack McElhone). Lizzie has been protecting her son by lying to him about his father. She has even concocted an elaborate plan to write her son as his father, who happens to be away at sea on the HMS Accra. The real story of Frankie's father is one she hopes never to tell her son.
Lizzie's constructed world of Frankie's new dad comes to a grinding halt when it is revealed that the HMS Accra is anchoring near where Lizzie and her son live. With the help of Lizzie's friend Marie (Sharon Small), Lizzie hires a stranger (Gerard Butler) to assume the role of Frankie's father returning from duties at sea.
Can the secret be contained? Will Frankie guess the lies? Who is this stranger?
Dear Frankie is a very somber and light-hearted tale of a mother's undying love to protect her child. Mortimer is strong-willed but very restrained, which allows for her character's lying to be believable. Mortimer is also quite good at showing her character's guilt in the quietest of scenes and there are a lot of them.
The reason I compare this film to that of Michael Winterbottom is because Winterbottom's unflinching focus on the mood of the scene is so evident in this picture that it becomes a conscious entity unto itself. Mood, depressive behavior, cold climate, hopelessness, and strange love are all staples of Winterbottom and this film has them all.
The film is directed by newcomer Shona Auerbach and written by relatively new screenwriter Andrea Gibb, who really seem to thrive in the Winterbottom mold. However, they have more humor than Winterbottom often allows.
I really enjoyed Mortimer and the performances of McElhone and Butler, but I never felt drawn in or close to them. The only real connection I had to the characters was on the most basic of feelings, like a mother's love. It is weird, but a film with so many moods, you would think that you would be drawn in more. I have the same problem with Michael Winterbottom films as well. Go figure.
Dear Frankie is a quaint little film, but no where near a great film. (3 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.