Dear Frankie—heartfelt, quiet little romantic tale.
Starring Emily Mortimer and Gerard Butler.

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I stumbled upon this movie by accident—saw a trailer for it on another DVD, read some reviews, and became intrigued. I didn't realize that it would get me so hooked. It's a very sweet movie that could have been handled in a too-corny, cloying sort of way, but instead was done just right.

Frankie  Lizzie - Emily Mortimer
The Stranger - Gerard Butler  Lizzie's mom
L-R, top to bottom: Frankie (Jack McElhone), Frankie's mom, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), The Stranger (Gerard Butler), Lizzie's mom (Mary Riggans).

The charms of Dear Frankie: The story is simple enough—single mom Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) and her 9-year-old son, Frankie (Jack McElhone) are always on the run. Frankie's dad is someone worth running away from (we eventually learn why). She travels throughout Scotland, never staying in one place too long, accompanied by her long-suffering, chain-smoking mother (Mary Riggans).

Frankie is deaf (but is a great lip reader), bright, and "just a little cheeky." He doesn't talk much on screen, but we hear his voice through narrated letters that he is writing to his dad, whom he believes is a sailor always out to sea. What Frankie doesn't know is that the letters he gets from his dad are really written by his mom—she wants Frankie to have the illusion of a loving father, plus it gives her an opportunity to communicate with her often silent son.

Frankie and friend  marie - Sharon Small
Meeting the stranger - Emily Mortimer, Gerard Butler  reading a letter
L-R, top to bottom: Frankie at school, Lizzie's coworker friend Marie (Sharon Small), Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) meets The Stranger (Gerard Butler), Lizzie reads a letter.

But of course, a complication develops: the real-life ship that Frankie's fictional dad is supposedly on is going to be docking in town—and Frankie expects to finally meet him. Lizzie needs to come up with a quick solution—a man "with no past, present, or future"—to pretend to be Frankie's father. Just for one day. And Lizzie will pay him for his trouble.

Of course, things are never simple for Lizzie. She's too frightened and shy to try to find such a guy on her own, so her vivacious friend Marie (Sharon Small) sets her up with The Stranger (Gerard Butler), a seaman who is not given a name. Their "business arrangement" starts out distant and cautious at first, but The Stranger is far more sensitive and perceptive than Lizzie anticipates.

 Looking at seahorse - frankie, the stranger  Saying goodnight
Taking a picture  the hug - Jack McElhone, Gerard Butler
L-R: Frankie (Jack McElhone) and "The Stranger" (Gerard Butler) having some quality "dad-son" time together.

The interaction between Frankie and "The Stranger" is so touching and heartrending, and is handled just right by the two actors (young Jack McElhone and Gerard Butler). The filmmakers discovered that many male viewers responded in unexpectedly positive ways to this movie.

Sharing peanuts  At the doorway - Emily Mortimer, Gerard ButlerThe Stranger - Gerard Bishop  Lizzie - Emily Mortimer
L-R, top to bottom: Lizzie, Frankie and The Stranger, "The doorway" scene, The Stranger (Gerard Butler) and Lizzie (Emily Mortimer).

What makes it work: The direction choices and skillful acting are what make this film successful and emotionally effective. It could have easily succumbed to being too "feel-good," too soon—things could have been smooth and syrupy, but the movie deftly avoids this. For instance, the chemistry between The Stranger, Frankie and Lizzie is not rushed—The Stranger is quiet and distant at first, but warms up to Frankie and Lizzie gradually, as he gets to know them and begins to understand their situation.

Emily Mortimer, Gerard Butler, Gerald Butler  Frankie, Lizzie and Stranger (Mortimer, Gerard Butler, Jack McElhone
L-R: The Stranger (Gerard Butler) and Lizzie (Emily Mortimer); Lizzie, Frankie and the Stranger. 

Happy endings: It would be a disservice to anyone who hasn't seen this film to reveal too much more of the story. Just watch it for yourself and find out what happens. I will give one bit of information (warning: slight spoiler)—the ending is essentially a happy one, but doesn't leave everything all perfect and tidy. You are left wondering about a few things. After viewing the film for a second time, however, I think I picked up enough clues and plot details to feel confident that everything would continue to pan out in a satisfactory way. (Another tiny spoiler, only meaningful to those who have seen the movie already: I am convinced that Lizzie's friend Marie—due to her savvy, assertive nature and unique connections—would play a big part in pushing events in a particular direction.)

The actors: I'm most familiar with Emily Mortimer's work, and I've always liked her. She's pretty in a quiet way that grows on you, and portrays the proper shyness and gentleness for this part. I really can't imagine anyone else playing the part of Lizzie.

Jack McElhone is wonderful as Frankie. He's one of these cute kids who does not appear to be aware of how cute he is—he exudes intelligence and sweetness, without being too precocious. He expresses so much with almost no dialog—a real challenge, and he pulls it off perfectly.

Gerard Butler wasn't at all what I expected in The Stranger, but it turns out he's absolutely perfect in the part. He's not what I'd call handsome, but is quite attractive in a masculine, scruffy sort of way. He initially plays his character as somewhat severe, but you start to see such empathy in his eyes as he learns more about Lizzie and Frankie.

(A little review hijack.) Amazing casting choices: I was relatively unfamiliar with Gerard Butler when I first saw Dear Frankie. Therefore, I was quite surprised to discover that I'd already seen him as the bearded, disheveled archeologist in Timeline (only I didn't recognize him). Even more astonishing, he also played the singing, brooding Phantom in the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera.

It's unusual to see an actor change their "look" in such a chameleon-like way, so I'm really impressed with Gerard Butler's ever-evolving appearance. If you want to see him look really different, check out The Phantom of the Opera. You might find it hard to believe that this is the same guy who plays "The Stranger" in Dear Frankie.

 Gerard Butler - 'Dear Frankie'  Gerard Butler, Timeline  Gerard Butler - Phantom of the Opera
L-R: They're all the same guy: Gerard Butler in "Dear Frankie," "Timeline," and "The Phantom of the Opera."

Dear Frankie DVDDear Frankie on DVD

This DVD is definitely a worthwhile purchase. Not only is the movie wonderful, but there are sufficient extras on the DVD to tempt the collector. Included are a few deleted scenes (including an extended dance sequence between Lizzie and The Stranger), a couple of short films with interviews with the director and cast, and a director commentary of the movie. The DVD picture is sharp, and the sound seems fine. (Keep your closed captioning or subtitles on if you have a hard time with thick Scottish accents though—you don't want to miss any of the dialog!)

 

 

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