Review Date: 4.26.05
Good storytellers are adept at withholding essential details, then teasing us by parceling them out spoonful by spoonful, or sometimes, in one unexpected broadside.
The director and the scriptwriter of the new Scottish film, Dear Frankie are expert practitioners of this technique.
Because there are so many wonderful secrets in Dear Frankie, I can give you a broad outline of the story without spoiling the many lovely surprises.
Frankie is a hearing impaired nine year old boy. He, his mother and his grandmother move frequently. He isn’t told why. Frankie is a stamp collector. He writes frequently to his father who, Frankie believes, is a seaman in the merchant marine. He receives letters from ports of call around the globe, and he tracks the voyage of his father’s ship on a map of the world pinned to his bedroom wall.
We learn early in the film that Frankie’s mother, Lizzie, is conducting a rather elaborate hoax designed to provide Frankie with the illusion of a father. She reads Frankie’s letters to his dad, composes fatherly responses and arranges for Frankie to receive them at phony post boxes. The scheme involves visits to a philatelist for stamps from exotic places, and the reluctant participation of Frankie’s skeptical grandmother, who believes Frankie should be told the truth.
While we never doubt the motives of mother Lizzie, good intent rarely provides immunity from the complications inherent in the fabled tangled web of deceit. And Lizzie’s white lies are no exception. When one of Frankie’s school chums reads in the newspaper that his dad’s ship is scheduled to dock soon in Glasgow, Lizzie’s carefully crafted fiction begins to unravel. She’d created the name of a ship without knowing it actually existed.
What Lizzie does next is at the heart of this heart warmer of a story. I won’t tell you what she does, except to say that she weaves faster and more furiously than ever to maintain the web of illusion for Frankie.
This might be a good time for me to tell you that I loved this film. I loved the writing and the characters. I loved the acting, which was excellent throughout. And I loved the impeccable timing of the director, Shona Auerbach. She’s a master of the set up. More than a few times I thought I knew what was coming next, thought I understood a character’s motives, only to discover, in a very gentle way, that I was wrong. It’s a technique that could easily infuriate audiences, but instead of feeling manipulated, I always felt relieved when my reading proved to be in error.
Dear Frankie explores the limits of love, asks how far one can go, and how far one should go, to protect a beloved from life’s harsh realities. And it suggests that while good intentions provide no insurance against the complications of benign fabrications, they may well buffer the inevitable crash.
Dear Frankie manages to be funny, sad, endearingly duplicitous, and full of genuine sentiment. It’s one of those rare feel good movies that doesn’t choke on its own treacle. I haven’t enjoyed myself or cried so much at the movies in a long time. I hope you’ll see it, and tell your friends.
For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.