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Dear Frankie Review

By Shawn McKenzie 03/20/2005

Is it wrong for me to want subtitles for movies that have actors sporting thick accents?  Ever since the 2003 movie Sweet Sixteen came out, I’ve wanted more movies to include subtitles when I couldn’t understand their accents, and the Scottish movie Dear Frankie is one of those movies that could have used them.  Otherwise, it is a moving film about when parents sometimes have to make little white lies to make their children happy.

Nine-year-old Frankie Morrison (Jack McElhone) is a bright boy who is deaf, but he can easily read lips (though he prefers not to talk often.)  He reads constantly, especially about the sea.  There is a reason behind his interest in marine life though.  His father, Davey (Cal Macaninch), is a sailor who has been out to sea since he was a baby, and he has been waiting for his dad to come back.  Frankie writes his dad letters all the time, and mails them to Davey’s ship, the HMS Accra.  In addition to writing Davey, Frankie also tracks all of the ports that his father has sailed to, hoping that one day he will sail to where he is staying.  What Frankie doesn’t know is that the letters that he gets back from Davey are actually being written by his mother Lizzie (Emily Mortimer.)  She has been on the run for many years to avoid Davey, because he was abusive (and he isn’t a sailor.)  She doesn’t want to tell Frankie that his father is a monster, so she concocted this elaborate story about Davey being out to sea to spare his feelings.  She intercepts Frankie’s letters and writes back to him under the guise of Davey.  Besides…when she reads Frankie’s letters, she can finally hear his voice.  Frankie’s grandmother Nell (Mary Riggans), who came with Lizzie and Frankie when they fled from Davey, doesn’t approve of Lizzie’s ruse (she doesn’t say anything to Frankie about it though.)  The three have now arrived in Glasgow, and like every other time, they have to start all over.  Frankie is enrolled in school, where he meets a mean boy named Ricky Monroe (Sean Brown) and a nice girl named Catriona (Jayd Johnson), who knows sign language (well…a little bit of sign language.)  Frankie is glad that they are by the sea, because he might get to see his dad this time.  Lizzie, in the meantime, meets a woman named Marie (Sharon Small) at a restaurant/convenience store owned by the woman, and the two quickly become friends.  Marie offers Lizzie a job there at the store, and she accepts, even though she initially didn’t think that she wanted to, since she wasn’t sure how long they would be staying.  Back at the school, Ricky tells Frankie that the Accra will be docking in Glasgow next week, but he makes a bet with Frankie that Davey won’t show up.  Frankie is excited by this news and writes Davey to ask to see him finally after all of this time.  When Lizzie gets the letter, she panics and realizes that she needs to either tell Frankie the truth, or find someone to play his father, if only for a day.  Of course, she chooses the former, and she tries to find a man without a past or a future to pose as Davey.  She attempts on her own to find such a man, but she strikes out.  Marie and her boyfriend Ally (John Kazek) then help Lizzie by setting her up with a guy they know might be able to step in.  Marie brings Lizzie an unnamed stranger (Gerard Butler) to meet with her and see if he will do the job (she is willing to pay him.)  After hearing her tale of the ruse and her attempts to cover it up, The Stranger (that’s what his character is listed as in the credits) agrees to do it.  Frankie meets The Stranger, and almost immediately, they hit it off.  The Stranger takes him to Frankie’s football game (well…soccer for us Yanks) and shows him how to find the perfect skipping rock to throw into a body of water.  Of course, Frankie also gets to enjoy rubbing the relationship in Ricky’s face, making the bully lose their bet.  The Stranger encourages Frankie to dance with Catriona at one point during a social gathering, but he chickens out.  Meanwhile, Lizzie is contacted by her sister-in-law, Janet (Anne Marie Timoney), after tracking Lizzie down via personal ads in the newspaper.  Janet wants Lizzie to know that Davey is dying and he wants to beg for forgiveness for all of the pain that he caused them.  He also wants to see his son again before he dies, but since Lizzie has been living this lie about his father for so long, and things have going so well with The Stranger (his “stay” with Frankie has extended for more than just one day), that she doesn’t want to mess things up.  She has mixed feelings…should she tell Frankie that Davey is near death, or should she keep up with the ruse?

The ironic thing is that I’m from Scottish decent.  I’ve never been to Scotland, but McKenzie is definitely a Scottish name.  So why do I have so much trouble understanding the accent?  Sweet Sixteen was a Scottish film, and I thought that it was revolutionary in the use of subtitles for a language that is generally considered English.  Since a lot of the movie made usage of physical gestures (mostly from Frankie), I was able to understand most of it.

Aside from the language trouble, the movie was excellent.  Even though she has been in movies for almost ten years, Mortimer first came to my attention in 2001’s Lovely & Amazing.  She was good in that movie and she is good in this one as well.  Butler is also good, but going over his acting resume, I’ve noticed that he has mostly played supporting characters.  This looks like he will finally be able to showcase his talents once and for all.  The movie is Riggans’ first starring role, but she does her part so well that it looked like she had been doing it for decades.  Various reviews I have read say that Small looks like Pamela Reed (HBO’s “Tanner ’88;” Kindergarten Cop), but I don’t see the resemblance.

I was also surprised by how much I liked the ending.  I don’t want to give it away, but what could have been considered predictable wasn’t.  Some other critics might argue that they saw it coming, but I was suckered in, and I enjoyed how it wrapped up the movie.

If you can understand thick Scottish accents better than I can, I recommend seeing Dear Frankie.  This is director Shona Auerbach’s first film, and it shows her potential here.  I know that it is tough to take the family to see movies at an indie movie theater, but I encourage you to see it.  Never mind the PG-13 rating…aside from a few curse words (which are to hear anyway through their accents), there is nothing offensive in the movie.  Check it out and see if you agree that it is better than other brainless so-called “family” films.


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