Balanced and focused.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
My recollection of films about single mothers, such as "Thirteen" with Holly Hunter and "You Can Count on Me" with Laura Linney, is that there is much shouting, enormous insecurity, and always the need for a man. Not so the Scottish gem called "Dear Frankie." Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) has a nine-year old deaf son, Frankie, with whom she moves frequently to hide from his father. Lizzie is a compassionate, loving mom, and he is a world-class lip reader who can charm the fiercest school bully.
Director Shona Auerbach places them in a picturesque shoreline of an otherwise industrial Glasgow. Lizzie continues to fake correspondence from his father, and Frankie replies faithfully while plotting his father's course aboard a steamer all around the Atlantic on a map in his room, much to the chagrin of his grandmother (Mary Riggans), a chain-smoking realist who doesn't approve of the charade.
They all cope quite well until news of the arrival of his father's boat, a fictional one until that moment. Getting a dad for a day is the essence of the film's good nature as it brings out everyone's true personality. Still no harsh single-mom moments, but not without heartbreak either. Aurebach and writer Andrea Gibbe give dignity to their characters and truth that seemed never so real in film. The director is confident enough to allow long periods of silence, for the actors and the subtext are so powerful that the silence is shouting, an appropriate metaphor given the film's protagonist is deaf.
"Dear Frankie" could have been sappy, maudlin, or just plain overly sentimental, but these characters are so balanced and focused, with mom even afraid to take a chance on love, that you can be happy for their little successes often emerging from setbacks that would have crushed others. No one, least of all Frankie, can be accused of willfulness; no one qualifies for Shakespeare's observation that "will is deaf and hears no heedful friends." Everyone here will be your friend.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com.