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Friday Film Review: Dear Frankie

Dear Frankie (2004)
Genre: Drama
Grade: A-

Gerard Butler, please stop acting in rubbish films that have heroines put in vibrating underwear and do more like this one. This film is wonderful. And it’s wonderful without overdoing the important moments or slathering on the pathos in order to yank on our heartstrings.

Lizzie Morrison (Emily Mortimer) has carried on a deception for years. When her son was a baby, she took him and fled her abusive husband. Living with her mother, Nell (Mary Riggans), they’ve moved from town to town to avoid Davy. But she’s kept all this from Frankie (Jack McElhone), instead telling him his Da is a merchant sailor and writing to Frankie as if the letters come from his father.

Their latest move has taken them to Glasgow and unintentionally brought about the thing Lizzie has always worried about. The name she randomly chose for the ship Davy supposedly serves on is actually the name of a real ship and it’s coming into port soon. When Frankie’s new classmate bets him that Frankie’s Da won’t come to visit while his ship is docked, Lizzie sets out to find a stranger to play the part for a day. But the Stranger (Gerard Butler) might turn out to be more than either Frankie or Lizzie ever hoped for.

Director Shona Auerbach hit the jackpot with her cast who all turn in spot on performances. Mortimer conveys a woman who’s put up barriers against being hurt and against seeing her child get hurt. Then she has to pull them down to reach out to this stranger and allow him to know the hidden hurt of her world. For her son, she’ll do it but she still stands ready to defend Frankie and the lie she’s perpetuated to give him some contact with a father.

Butler displays an awkwardness one would expect of a man trying to pull a fast one on a 9 year old child. But then slowly warms and thaws to the role of being an absentee father beginning with watching Frankie at football then finding him the perfect stone to skip across the water. Later he’s the one who wheedles Lizzie into allowing him to spend one more day with the two of them, extending his role of having this family for a brief moment longer.

But McElhone, as Frankie, steals the film. He’s not above using his deafness to get his way, as with a librarian he guilts into letting him check out more books but he’s a decent kid who actually knows far more than he lets his mother think he does. And he can hold his own against the classmate Ricky played by Sean Brown with cheeky charm. Frankie also has a girlfriend of sorts, Catriona (Jayd Johnson) who defends him against Ricky then gets him into trouble herself with her knowledge of where mothers store things in order to hide them.

Everything about the film is subtle and scaled perfectly. There’s no overblown orchestral score or soaring violins to hammer us with the knowledge that this is an Important Emotional Moment in the film. The music backs up the acting and the acting is done with finesse. There are looks and glances, spacing to emphasis the awkward first meeting between Lizzie and the Stranger and time to catch the shock on the Stranger’s face when he finally learns why Frankie’s real Da isn’t part of his life.

When I rented the film, I wasn’t expecting much beyond some nice eye candy moments from Butler. I hoped that it wouldn’t be too mushy or maudlin. I hoped that the ending wouldn’t pull out all the stops to manipulate me and force the film into a “feel good” resolution. The film avoids the pitfalls I was worried about and still gives me eye candy. It’s a film that uses silence and physical space to let the actors tell the tale. It’s a charmer and a film I’m glad I took a chance on.

~Jayne

This is currently available in DVD form but it ain’t cheap so my thanks to Susanna Kearsley for pointing out that it’s posted on youtube.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

36 Comments

  1. Sandy James
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 05:13:31

    Great movie! Although I have to admit, if all Gerard Butler did was read the phone book, I’d still watch him. ;-)

    ReplyReply

  2. Jayne
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 06:10:30

    @Sandy James: He is easy on the eyes!

    ReplyReply

  3. Bonnie Dee
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 06:25:29

    I saw this movie quite a while ago and was very impressed. Thanks for reminding me about it. I’ll have to track it down and watch again.

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  4. Bonnie
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 06:26:14

    This movie was wonderful. And Gerard Butler….. Mmmmhmmmm….

    ReplyReply

  5. Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 06:33:10

    I get out early from work today and apparently have a date with YouTube. :) Thanks for the rec.

    ReplyReply

  6. sula
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 07:01:54

    This is a real little gem of a movie. And not just for the Gerard Butler eye candy (which IS delish, let’s be honest). But for the superb performances of the whole cast and the bittersweet story.

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  7. KristieJ
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 07:03:37

    This sounds exactly like my kind of movie. I’ve never heard of it so thanks for the heads up on it.

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  8. Tina M.
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 07:09:25

    Probably one of the best movies GB has done.

    I heard about this movie in my Entertainment Weekly magazine and rented it. What a delight! Funny, heartwarming, heartbreaking, it is a must see. Let’s see if I can watch it again without a box of tissues next to me.

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  9. Carrie Lofty
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 07:30:31

    I did a review of it here (from back in 2006) if anyone’s curious. Very cute film & well done.

    ReplyReply

  10. Susanna Kearsley
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 08:27:11

    Oh, one of my favourite movies ever. I love, love, love this one. Thanks so much for featuring it.

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  11. Gennita Low
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 08:28:07

    Oh, a subject dear to my heart–Gerard Butler ;-). Great movie and lovely, lovely eye candy. I think I’m going to rewatch Phantom of the Opera now….

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  12. Virginia Kantra
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 08:37:18

    Am loving the film reviews and just reserved this at our local Blockbuster. Thanks!

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  13. Susanna Kearsley
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 08:37:28

    @KristieJ – From what I know of you through your blog, this is DEFINITELY your kind of movie. If you can’t find a copy to watch, let me know — I’ll loan you mine :-)

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  14. Jayne
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 09:01:33

    @Carrie Lofty: Oh, I loved the Grandmother too. Sending Frankie out for her fags!

    ReplyReply

  15. Jayne
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 09:03:53

    Sharon Small (of Inspector Lynley Mysteries fame) has a great secondary role too.

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  16. Jayne
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 09:18:29

    Tina and Sula, it does have that slightly heartbreaking edge to it but, honestly, that’s why I like it so much. Auerbach doesn’t try and force a “kittens and rainbows” HEA. Maybe something will happen in the future and maybe not. But those days captured in the film are magical.

    I also liked the soundtrack a lot. The opening theme sets the stage for the whole tone of the film.

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  17. Kathryn Smith
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 09:48:43

    This is one of my all time fave movies. I even own it. The entire cast was amazing. I love the non Hollywood ending because it leaves you hopeful, and confident of what the future holds for Frankie and his mom.

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  18. theo
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 10:08:25

    I saw this movie when it was released and it immediately moved up to place as one of my all time fav five movies. I have enjoyed Friday Film Review and this was a perfect choice.

    ReplyReply

  19. vanessa jaye
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 10:15:01

    I’ve never seen nor heard of this movie, but I’m going to check if HMV has it on my way home today. It sounds just wonderful. Thanks for the review.

    ReplyReply

  20. Karenmc
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 10:29:20

    I have it in my Netflix queue. Sounds like I need to move it to the top.

    ReplyReply

  21. Jayne
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 10:45:33

    @Susanna Kearsley: Thanks for emailing me and nudging me into going ahead and scheduling my review of it.

    ReplyReply

  22. Mara
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 11:06:17

    This is a lovely movie. I didn’t like the mother at first for what she was doing, but when she finally confessed her reason for doing it, it so resonated with me, I was totally on her side ever after. Her deeper reason for lying to her son will just break your heart. Smart, moving screenplay. Very worth renting or buying.

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  23. Susanna Kearsley
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 11:42:59

    @Jayne: You’re very welcome. As I said, your choices have been scarily in line with my own favourites for a while now…:-)

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  24. Suzanne
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 11:45:24

    This is the movie that made me a Gerard Butler fan!!!! Some may think it is too slow paced, but that is what I love about it…not some Hollywood, pack as much crap into it as possible kind of movie. Just sweet and touching and the kiss…one of the best kisses ever!

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  25. Donna Kowalczyk
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 11:51:50

    I’ve been on a Gerard Butler kick since I saw him play Dracula, so I’m looking forward to this one, thanks. :-) Though, to be honest, I loved him in The Ugly Truth as well…LOL

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  26. Susanna Kearsley
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 11:57:04

    Just remembered there’s a nice little interview clip on YouTube as well, with Gerard Butler and Emily Mortimer discussing their roles. (Why, oh why, don’t they ever let Gerard Butler speak with his own accent in American films?) In case the link doesn’t work, here’s the URL:

    ReplyReply

  27. theo
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 12:10:10

    I made a screensaver with a lot of GB’s kisses. The Dear Frankie one is the last one. The music is Josh Groban’s When You Say You Love Me.

    If anyone’s interested, let me know, I’ll pass along the download link…

    I saw him in Mrs. Brown and that’s all it took. *sigh*

    ReplyReply

  28. CourtneyLee
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 13:32:47

    I loved this movie. After Phantom of the Opera, I glommed GB films and I’m so glad he did this movie. I, too, got emotional over it when all I was prepared for was yummy Scottish eye candy.

    I like Emily Mortimer, too, and wish she was in more American movies. She did an action movie with Samual L Jackson and Robert Carlisle called Formula 51 in which she plays a contract killer beholden to a drug lord because of gambling debt. Fun movie, if a little B-list.

    ReplyReply

  29. Sherry Thomas
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 13:42:39

    I love this movie. I’m not particularly interested in GB, but he was a good silent, brooding presence in this one.

    ReplyReply

  30. Sandy James
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 09:11:50

    @Sherry

    I'm not particularly interested in GB, but he was a good silent, brooding presence in this one.

    He does that brooding very well, doesn’t he? Though I have to admit I would have to assume room temperature to not be interested in him. ;-) In the urban fantasy series I’m working on, I actually wrote in a Scot as the hero just in case the story ever becomes a movie. Then I can demand Gerard get the part. :-)

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  31. Melanie G.
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 16:41:30

    I can top everyone. Dear Frankie is one of my favorite movies of ALL TIME. Not only that, but I have been to Greenock where the film was made and stood on that hill overlooking the Clyde. I have even had tea in the hotel in Glasgow where she first meets the Stranger (played by Gerard Butler.) My trip to Scotland was not complete without the Dear Frankie pilgrimage, complete with gathering a stone from the beach the Stranger goes to with Frankie.

    I was at Sundance, and ran into Emily Mortimer who was there for the premiere of her film Transiberian (where she plays a villain, interestingly enough.) I had to go up to her and tell her how much I love Dear Frankie. She was quite touched, as it’s one of her favorite films, too, but it had such a small release. Poor girl had to do 20 takes of that famous kisssing scene with Gerry!

    Obsessed much? Who me?

    Rent this film, gals! It’s a must watch. One of Gerard Butler’s all time best roles.

    ReplyReply

  32. Kaetrin
    Nov 07, 2009 @ 20:17:16

    I’m a mad keen GB fan so you won’t get an argument from me re the grade for this movie!

    I do think that Gerry has the ability to convey an idea with his expression only and it was put to great use in this film.

    Without any guilt, I confess that also loved The Ugly Truth - I’m a sucker for a rom-com. Add GB = WIN!! (I’m also happy to watch him read the phone book….!!)

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  33. Jayne
    Nov 08, 2009 @ 06:02:28

    @Melanie G.:

    Poor girl had to do 20 takes of that famous kisssing scene with Gerry!

    Darn that director for making her do that! What a hardship…Poor girl.

    ReplyReply

  34. Sarah
    Nov 20, 2009 @ 21:22:51

    I’m so glad you reviewed this! I saw it years ago, and bought it immediately after returning it to Netflix. Its the perfect example of a hopeful ending, and also that huge sex scenes are not always necessary (their kiss was plenty hot!). It felt like a perfect romance novel.

    I’ve been a GB fan since I saw him in this and I have to agree – he needs to step up his film choices! I’m not sure I even want to see his new one about bad citizens or something?

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  35. Jayne
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 07:24:03

    @Sarah:

    I've been a GB fan since I saw him in this and I have to agree – he needs to step up his film choices! I'm not sure I even want to see his new one about bad citizens or something?

    No, I have no desire to see the “Citizen” movie either. He seems to do a lot of voices for movies and other choices make me wonder if it’s just to pay the mortgage.

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  36. KharisJ
    Mar 07, 2012 @ 13:40:34

    @melanie g – totally understand where u r coming from there – that’s the kind of thing I do!!! It really is satisfying to connect in that way – id love to do that and would love more detail regarding the hotel and where this was shot. Fantastic movie with great emotion.

    ReplyReply

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