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In “Dear Frankie,” Director Shona Auerbach manages to find lots of heartfelt drama in a scenario that could have easily been written off as comedy. If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief just a little, you might even cry at the next presentation of Mesa Public Library’s Free Film Series, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs meeting room theater.
Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) left Frankie’s (Jack McElhone) father years ago when Frankie was still too young to absorb how the man treated them or even what he looked like. Now that he’s 9 years old, one might think he’d forgotten all about a father he hasn’t met or spoken to since.
However, Lizzie accidentally makes sure this doesn’t happen. She writes her son letters every month, make-believing an entire life and signing each letter from his father.
About to get caught in her lie, Lizzie takes a huge risk – at least in the eyes of her mother, played endearingly by Mary Riggans – and pays a stranger to spend a day with Frankie, pretending to be the father she created in her letters.
“Dear Frankie” won admiration at a number of film festivals when Path Pictures International released it in 2004. It took the Montreal World Film Festival’s Golden Zenith award, the Seattle International Film Festival’s Women in Cinema Lena Sharpe Award, the WinFemme Film Festival’s WIN Award, the Heartland Film Festival’s Crystal Heart Award, the Jackson Hole Film Festival’s Cowboy Award and the High Falls Film Festival’s Audience Award.
I understand why so many critics – it also earned 80 percent fresh ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com) – praise the film. They say it possesses “an intense emotional impact” and “a hard-edged sense of reality.” They call it touching. They like the subtleties of the acting and the way the film doesn’t try to disguise Lizzie’s choices as being right – her injudiciousness only emphasizes how much she adores her son.
I agree. There’s a lot to like about “Dear Frankie.”
I would add that Jack McElhone is excellent as Frankie, a charming, stubborn, complicated, deaf vegetarian who loves his mother just as much as she loves him.
Difficult-to-understand Scottish accents and stagy plot aside, here’s a movie that really digs into the bond between a mother and her child, and finds some authenticity in spite of the odds.
“Dear Frankie” is 105 minutes long and rated PG-13 for language.
My score: three out of five kernels