Inside Pulse DVD Review – Dear Frankie



Shona Auerbach


Emily Mortimer……….Lizzie Morrison
Gerard Butler……….The Stranger
Sharon Small……….Marie
Jack McElhone……….Frankie Morrison
Mary Riggans……….Nell Morrison
Sean Brown……….Ricky Munroe

Miramax presents a film by Shona Auerbach. Written by Andrea Gibb. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for language).

The movie:

As a kid, our parents try to instill in us that lying is bad. That nothing good can ever come from it. Sure, our mothers and fathers may teach us not to lie or to swear, but they don’t always practice what they preach.

Now and again, though, lying comes in handy.

Dear Frankie is a film about a little white lie that snowballs to epic proportions. Emily Mortimer plays Lizzie, a woman who left her abusive spouse, and is raising her son, Frankie (Jack McElhone) with some assistance from her mother. The three are near penniless, constantly on the move, packing clothes and toys. They’re hoping to find solace away from dear old dad.

Frankie is deaf and he doesn’t know who his father is. All he knows about his dad is from the stories his mother tells him. But there’s a problem. The stories are works of fiction. Lizzie tells young Frankie that Dad is away at sea; he’s a crewmember for a freighter named the Accra. Each week Frankie writes his father a letter – keeping him up-to-date with school, friends, and Mom – and mails it to a P.O. Box address. The address is actually a mailbox where Lizzie intercepts the message and responds to it herself. She does this because her son is a constant reminder of her poor choice in men. “Frankie wasn’t born deaf. It was a gift from his Dad,” Lizzie tells the Stranger.

Everything is going swimmingly until the day classmate Ricky Munroe (Sean Brown) drops a piece from a newspaper on Frankie’s desk. The paper indicates the Accra will make a stop at the Glasgow port on Saturday. While Frankie nonchalantly folds the paper and places it in his pants pocket, you can bet he was containing his glee. But his happiness is short-lived; Ricky bets Frankie that his father won’t even get off the ship.

Back at home Lizzie’s mother Nell (Mary Riggans) reads the same announcement. Showing the paper to Lizzie, you can almost feel her heart beating fast, her mind racing. She’s dumbfounded, to say the least. What once was a simple stretching of the truth – okay, maybe it was an all out lie – has spiraled out of control. For some reason I am reminded of U2’s “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” with lyrics like, “You’ve got to get yourself together/ You’ve got stuck in a moment/ And now you can’t get out of it.”

To resolve this fine mess, Lizzie decides to find a man who will pretend to be Frankie’s father for a day. Her friend Marie (Sharon Small) supplies Lizzie with a man. No, Marie is not a pimp; but working in a fish and chips eatery, she has ample opportunity to spot men. Enter the Stranger, played by Phantom of the Opera‘s Gerard Butler. Lizzie wants to know nothing of his past, his present, or his future. She just wants him to be Frankie’s dad for a day. He agrees.

What could have easily been a romantic farce cooked up by Hollywood, or a schmaltzy tearjerker, Dear Frankie avoids the usual pitfalls. It has an emotional connection that you can’t find in many films. The Stranger and Frankie walk around Glasgow, have some ice cream, and visit the beach. There is a moment where the Stranger is skipping stones on the water. Frankie tries but is unsuccessful. The Stranger then tells him that he needs a flat rock. He says, “This is a good one Frankie,” but Frankie isn’t looking and is unable to know he has been spoken to. Realizing his mistake, the Stranger kind of ponders at the ground for a moment before handing him the rock.

Thankfully, director Shona Auerbach decided not to center her film on Frankie’s disability. Yes, he is deaf, but there’s more to him than his inability to hear. He’s smart as a tack and a champion lip reader. The letters he receives from his father, albeit false, are an inspiration to him. Without them, Frankie would never have such love for aquatic life.

In this business transaction nothing about the Stranger is revealed. He takes on the name “Davey” because it belonged to Frankie’s dad. The arrangement was made for only one day; but near the end of that day, Davey tells Lizzie and Frankie that his freighter won’t be leaving tomorrow. He can spend another day with his son. That is, if Lizzie will allow it.

Lizzie is distressed. This wasn’t part of the deal, she muses. “Who gave you the right to come in here and behave like this?” Unwavering, Davey looks at her and simply says, “You did. You’ve waited all this time.”

Occasionally, there are films that are captivating just because of the characters. Observing how Davey and Frankie spend their days together is sure to bring to mind your own childhood memories. Davey may be a stranger, but he’s the closest thing to a father Frankie will ever have.

Silence is another attraction. Like, how Frankie’s letters affect his mother. Just because his father’s tales are make-believe does not dismiss the fact that Frankie’s words have meaning. It’s only when she reads the letters silently to herself that Lizzie is able to hear his voice.

Then there’s the scene where Lizzie and Davey look at each other as they stand in front of her apartment. Nothing is spoken, but every thing is conveyed in their eyes and body language. In this brief moment they are able to experience what Frankie senses everyday. An uncomfortable silence.

Score: 9/10

The DVD:

VIDEO: How does it look?

Director Shona Auerbach had a look she wanted to achieve with Dear Frankie. She wanted to limit the use of white and blue in her film, preferring earth tones instead. The look works to great effect. The clothing, in particular, helps the characters blend into the scenery. The Stranger’s black coat is accentuated, offsetting both Lizzie and Frankie. When it comes to problems with the print, the only thing I noticed was a small amount of dirt. Nothing serious. The film is presented with a 1.85:1 widescreen ratio that is enhanced for 16X9 televisions.

Score: 8/10

AUDIO: How does it sound?

Don’t expect gun battles and loud explosions when watching Frankie attempt to skim rocks across the water. This is a dialogue-driven film as well as a character study. At first you will want to keep your volume control handy. The Scottish dialects are heavy and hard to understand from time to time, even with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. This is where English captions come in handy. Besides the 5.1 track and captions, there is a French language track and Spanish subtitles.

Score: 8/10

SPECIAL FEATURES: A featurette, deleted scenes, and more extras!!

A film like Dear Frankie, you don’t expect an overabundance of extras to tide you over. So you make the best of what you have.

When you pop the disc you can see some trailers or go straight to the movie. The trailers are for A Lot Like Love, Bride and Prejudice, and Miramax 25th Anniversary.

In the special features section the first extra is The Story of Dear Frankie, a nine-minute featurette which overviews the film. This EPK-like (Electronic Press Kit) feature outlines what the film is: a slice of life that everyone can relate to. Shona Auerbach admits that Frankie has an inner strength. He’s a cool kid who’s intelligent and independent. Just like Mom. And even in destitution, Lizzie lies to her son because she is protecting him from the hardships of life; namely, his father.

There are eight deleted scenes which to view. The scenes are mostly minor cuts or extensions of scenes. Two of the best scenes are “The Aquarium” and “The Dance.” The former scene gives us a moment of Frankie and a clownfish. Nemo, perhaps? When it came to the dance sequence, the powers that be didn’t like the slow motion. But the effect is used as a device that makes us believe Lizzie is being whisked away by the Stranger.

For the Interview with Director Shona Auerbach segment we have the director fielding questions from an unknown person. The questions skim the surface of the film and don’t really explore it. Sure, she gets questions about Emily Mortimer and Gerard Butler, and what attracted her to the feature. The best question was in regards to the film’s color scheme. Auerbach was inspired by the “Glasgow Boys” and “Glasgow Girls” paintings. The images showed Scotland with a special light.

What this interview lacked was a sounding board. Maybe if it was a one-on-one interview, ala Charlie Rose, there could have been less softball questions and some spontaneity in the responses.

The last extra is a feature commentary with Shona Auerbach. Her commentary reiterates some of the questions discussed in the interview segment. Originally, Dear Frankie was a short story that Auerbach wanted to make feature length. In her commentary she discusses the placement of scenes and how edits were made to shorten the film.

The special features are a mixed bag, on the whole. The characters and film are outlined, of course, but the extras don’t examine the filmmaking process or the subject matter.

Score: 4/10