When I initially reviewed this movie at the Austin Film Festival
last year (http://www.hybridmagazine.com/films/1004/aff2004/aff-reviews.shtml)
I found it to be a sweet, touching, and overall engaging experience.
And I still do.
Dear Frankie is the story about a single mother, Lizzie
(Mortimer), trying to protect her young deaf son,
Frankie (McElhone) from the knowledge that his
father was abusive and a dead-beat. She constructed an elaborate
charade where Frankie’s father is a sailor who is kept away
from the family since he is stationed on a boat called the Accra.
Frankie communicates with his father by writing letters—and
Lizzie makes sure replies are sent because she writes them herself.
With her mother, Nell (Riggans), Lizzie constantly
moves the family around to stay away from her estranged husband.
Complications arise when Frankie finds out that a ship actually
named the Accra is sailing into town, and he’s excited to
finally meet his dad. Now against the wall, Lizzie decides to further
construct the ruse by paying a stranger (Butler)
to pose as Frankie’s pop for the day.
This is a good, albeit smaller, role for Butler whom we usually
see in Hollywood garbage such as The Phantom Of The Opera, Tomb
Raider 2, Timeline, and Reign Of Fire. Butler plays
the nameless stranger hired by Lizzie to play Frankie’s dad.
And of course Butler’s character becomes fond of the interesting
lad and attracted to Lizzie. However, don’t jump to conclusions.
It never gets as far as the typical Hollywood flick. All I’m
saying is don’t expect to see any adult actors’ clothes
on the floor or hear wedding bells at the end.
McElhone does a wonderful job as the hearing-impaired and endearing
Frankie. Mortimer has great job chemistry with McElhone.
Normally one would be upset or discouraged by what is essentially
Lizzie’s lie to Frankie, but there’s more to it than
that. Lizzie is not really trying to shield her son from the harshness
of reality or the real world. When you observe how Lizzie and Frankie
live and how they constantly move from home to home, where money
is very tight, it’s obvious that the real thing Lizzie is
trying to protect for Frankie is his childhood—innocence and
youth, that idealism that every pre-adolescent needs and deserves
to have. The real reason she writes the letters to Frankie and always
encourages Frankie to write his own, is to give Frankie a focus
to ground himself—almost like a fun, playful learning game.
An eight-year-old boy, especially one who is handicapped, needs
a positive focus in life. When you finally learn the truth behind
everything… it really just doesn’t seem that bad at
all. And it shows the strength of the bond that Lizzie and Frankie
have, that unique love that only a mother and her son can share.
I guess that kind of makes me a momma’s boy at heart, which
I will not deny.
—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris