Of all the films I’ve seen (and believe me, there have been many), very few have actually moved me to tears. Only two, in fact. The first being The Elephant Man, which is easily one of the most incredibly heartbreaking films ever made. The other being Dear Frankie, a little known Scottish film that deserves a much bigger audience than it has received since its release in 2004.
While not necessarily a “long lost film”, Dear Frankie is one that isn’t widely known, for reasons I am not completely sure of. The cast is small, but powerful, with Emily Mortimer, from Match Point and Gerard Butler who is enjoying much success due to 300. And the story is one that is simple, but incredibly detailed, truthful and honest. At the end of the day, it is obvious that the filmmakers did not have a very big budget, so they wisely focused on the story and made it the star of the picture.
Dear Frankie tells the story of Frankie, a highly intelligent deaf boy who lives his days idolizing the father he’s never met. He moves from home to home with his mother Lizzie and grandmother Nell for reasons unknown. To protect her son from the truth about his father, every couple of weeks Lizzie writes letters to Frankie, posing as his father, a man working at sea on the HMS Accra. But what Lizzie doesn’t know is that Frankie’s been keeping track of the HMS Accra and, one day, much to his delight, discovers that it will be docking not too far from where they currently live. With not enough time to move away, Lizzie is forced to either tell Frankie the truth or think of something a little more creative. After much thought, she decides to pay a complete stranger (Gerard Butler) to act as Frankie’s father. The act eventually turns into something that reveals more about their characters than they ever expected.
What I adore most about this picture is that the story develops in a surprising fashion, but also a realistic one. I notice that when it comes to dramas, plenty of filmmakers tend to tweak emotions here and there in order to come to that always-important happy ending. While Dear Frankie ends on a happy note, it reaches that goal without betraying the audience. For ninety minutes, we get to know these characters, see how they act in certain situations, as well as see their flawed personalities interact with one another. It’s only fitting that the ending suits their personalities.
I’m sure by now you’ve come to the realization that the film has a slow pace, but that is also one of its most endearing qualities. It takes its time telling this simple story, one that is the very definition of the bittersweet love story. The picture focuses on the love between mother and son, as well as father and son. The thing is, in this story, the father figure isn’t necessarily biological.
Another beautiful aspect of the film is its habit of avoiding predictability. Seeing as how the main character is a deaf little boy, it would be assumed that the filmmakers would make the audience feel sympathy for him. Incredibly, that is not the case. His disability is rarely focused on, if at all.
Dear Frankie is a story about forgiveness and the love that should exist within a family. Frankie is constantly surrounded by people who love and care for him. I mean, even the stranger hired to pose as his father for a day adores the boy by the film’s end. As a matter of fact, in order to further elaborate on the character development, I have to tread into spoiler territory. So if you plan on seeing the film and don’t want to know key elements of the third act, stop reading now.
By the end of the film, it is revealed that Frankie knew all along that the stranger was not his father. It’s an interesting way of emphasizing the intelligence of the character. While it’s a surprise to the audience, it’s not impossible that Frankie would know such a fact. He is very observant, after all. It’s one of many nuances that help fully develop the character.
After Frankie reveals the truth, one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the movie takes place. For the first and only time, Frankie speaks (he reads the letters he writes to his father throughout the film through narration), asking the stranger not to go. It’s a heartbreaking moment, one that is affecting on so many levels that it takes a while for you to realize the deep impact it actually has. The moment is quiet, reserved and incredibly moving without being forceful, predictable or unrealistic.
While there are subplots involving Frankie’s mother and her budding relationship with the stranger and her mother’s opinion of it, as well as Frankie’s biological father re-entering his life, the film’s strongest scenes involve the little boy and the stranger. Even though they are strangers, they know so much about each other and they connect on a very real level.
Like I mentioned before, the film ends the way you expect it to. And that is not necessarily a negative thing, especially in the context of this film. Dear Frankie isn’t a film dedicated to telling a suspenseful story, full of surprise twists and turns. It’s a very human story that takes its time developing the characters that populate its world. It is a beautiful film that, when discovered, you will hold very dear to your heart. I know I do.