Dear Frankie

It's a month for cute kids from Great Britain with the release of Dear Frankie and Millions. While the latter is more of an imaginative fable, the former is an emotional family drama with good acting from Emily Mortimer (which is standard for her) and a surprisingly decent job from Gerard Butler. Mortimer (Bright Young Things, Young Adam) is Lizzie, a single mother raising Frankie (Jack McElhone, Young Adam), her deaf son. They live with Lizzie's mother Nell (Mary Riggans, The Duna Bull), and are constantly on the move to try to escape from Lizzie's ex-husband. The story initially does not reveal why this is so, only that something happened that caused Lizzie to detest him.

Frankie does not know any of this. He believes that his father is sailing around the world on a ship. He writes and receives letters from his father from all over the world. In actuality, Lizzie is receiving Frankie's letters and responding to them. Things get complicated when they learn that his ship, the Accra, is coming into town. Lizzie can either tell Frankie she's been lying to him, or try to figure something out. She opts for the latter, and hires a man (Gerard Butler, Phantom of the Opera, Timeline) to pretend to be Frankie's father. Director Shona Auerbach and screenwriter Andrea Gibb (AfterLife, Bite) ignore some of the moral implications of Lizzie's continued lies. This is probably good for the movie, since it would completely change the tone.

The bulk of the film deals with the way that "Danny's" presence changes Frankie and Lizzie. She only wants a business arrangement, and is ill prepared for the way that Frankie bonds with his father. It's unclear why Danny took the job, but he too is a little surprised at Frankie. Although they only spend two days together, Danny begins to feel extremely paternal towards Frankie, who is, after all, a great kid. Danny is also tall dark and handsome, something that Lizzie notices, but tries to ignore. She is fiercely protective of her son, and wants to ensure that nothing hurts him. This is a little ironic given that she lies consistently to him.

The entire plot feels a bit contrived at times, but by keeping the focus squarely on Frankie and Danny, Auerbach succeeds in making the film very watchable. Because of his deafness, Frankie finds it hard to make friends. He can speak, but doesn't, and Lizzie feels that his letters are the only way to hear his "voice" (awww). She handles the growing friendship between Frankie and Danny easily, much to the surprise of Lizzie and everybody in the audience. Auerbach also underplays the romantic angle, something most other directors would probably focus on. If one takes a step back, it's easy to see how improbable some of the plot points are, but thanks to an emotional performance from Mortimer, this is easy to overlook.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated PG-13 for language.

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