You’ve Got Male

On the process of moving out, nine-year-old boy Frankie Morrison (Jack McElhone) writes his name on a box and then scribbles “Handle With Care!!!” It’s a message for the movers, but it could also be the movie’s hint of things to come. Frankie is deaf and his perceived reality is ripe for shattering. Growing up, the boy has been led to believe his father is a seaman, who writes him letters about the marine life and worldy adventures. It turns out this has been all orchestrated by his protective mother Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), who has something to hide about Frankie’s real dad. Things become tricky when the real ship of Frankie’s fake dad docks in town. Lizzie hustles to keep the lie alive and hires a stranger/sailor (Gerard Butler) to play Frankie’s paternal pen pal. Will it work? Will it be handled with care?

“Dear Frankie” is lucky to have characters that are so immediate that the story itself becomes so secondary. How could one not be instantly taken by Frankie, who tries to rise above his disability and smiles at the thought of his father? How could one not sympathize with Lizzie, who loves her son so much that she’d be willing to put on a show just to protect him? How could one not be moved by the genuine bond between this mother and son? I couldn’t help but be suckered into the story and really care for these characters.

Of course, what really makes the characters work are the actors’ performances. Jack McElhone, who plays Frankie, is quite brilliant in staying in the moment. His acting is all in facial expressions and gait. His countenance is such an adorable canvas – heartbreaking when it’s sad; luminous when it’s smiling. Mortimer, a low-key actress, is equally brilliant in keeping herself together. In the maternal role, she’s convincing in hanging on to her wits to keep herself from crumbling. She knows she has to be strong for her son. Gerard Butler is admirable here, playing the Stranger. The movie doesn’t reveal much about him and yet, Butler makes sure the man is real enough, given the circumstances.

I do love the movie’s story. The film does walk at a moderate pace. It has a lot of things on its head, although it’s not complicated enough to take away attention to the characters. In fact, the movie’s strength lies in its simplicity. The film’s best scenes are just moments of hanging out. I also love the ending, which I know will frustrate some viewers because there’s no definite closure. But that’s life. We’ll never really know if Frankie and his mom will happily live ever after. But what’s happiness anyway? It can merely be an illusion. The love between a parent and a child – now that’s a real thing.

Grade: A-

Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone, Gerard Butler, Sharon Small, Mary Riggans
Screenplay by
Andrea Gibb
Directed by
Shona Auerbach
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, profanity