Dear Frankie DVD: Review By Dodd

  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
When I first saw a trailer for Scottish import, Dear Frankie, a few months ago I automatically branded it another venture in the realm of teary-eyed sentimentality. I know it is unfair to label a film before one has even seen it, but how can you not? Repetitious clichés tend to bring out the predictability in movie watchers. After watching the trailer and reading the premise at various online movie-gathering spots, I could only roll my eyes and wish that Miramax would give us something a little more fresh. However, the big guys at MovieWeb must have felt my low expectations and decided to ship the newly released DVD to my doorstep for review. And low and behold, Dear Frankie is not so bad. In's good!

The film opens with the Scottish-accented narration of the title character, Frankie (Jack McElhone). Crammed in the backseat of a packed car with his mother Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) and his grandmother (Mary Riggans), he is preparing for a move to Glasgow, Scotland. We are not sure why the family is making a big move, but we can tell Frankie is used to his mother's nomadic habits.

After getting settled into the new apartment, Frankie writes letters to his father. The young lad cannot remember his father's face, but he continues to write letter after letter to his sea bound pops. Though there is a catch. Lizzie is the one receiving the letters from a post office box and is writing her son back pretending to be Frankie's father. Where her ex-husband is and why she chooses to keep him a secret, we don't know.

A small problem arises in the letter-writing pattern when the father's supposed ship is scheduled to make a stop in Scotland. Frankie is so confident that he even makes a bet with the schoolyard bully that his dad will be at his football game the next week. Desperate to fulfill her son's hope, Lizzie finds a man known throughout the film as The Stranger (Gerard Butler). Paying the mystery man cash upfront, Lizzie has Stranger pose as Frankie's long lost father for one day. Though over the course of his stay, secrets will be revealed and connections will be made.

Dear Frankie is an example of a manipulative tearjerker. It seems that on numerous occasions the picture sets up the audience to get emotionally charged tingles and reach for the hankies during poignant exchanges. Frankly, those films piss me off. Though every so often one will come along that is well done enough for me to waive the attempts at touching my heart. I am well aware of the story's emotional agenda, yet the film is well done enough for me to kick back and let it move me.

One thing that Dear Frankie accomplishes flawlessly that a lot of films forget to achieve is resorting to plot development over twists. Sometimes storylines are so concerned with revealing surprise twists, that they forget things such as the origin of characters. Most of the twists in Dear Frankie are fulfilling developments. The film could choose to focus on the fate of Stranger and his relationship with the family, but along the way it answers little details about the family. These are little details that help us relate more to the characters and why they are taking such drastic, desperate actions such as hiring a complete stranger to hang out with a little boy.

As well, the performances benefit the project. I have had yet to see much impressive work from the leads, Emily Mortimer and Gerard Butler. Butler has wasted his time with American box office flops (Tomb Raider 2...remember that one?), and Mortimer has played more naïve, immature roles. The two up-and-comers unleash a lot of talent here, but the real surprise comes from young McElhone as Frankie. Kids these days tend to do things over the top so they can "cute" up the viewers. It is nice to see a child actor that is all about being natural.
The special features are not a bad variety, but it is all about quality, not quantity right?

The Story of Dear Frankie is a short-running featurette that does not reveal very much new information for those that have already seen the film. For the most part, the cast members take turns describing their characters and explaining the plot. Sadly, this is typical EPK material. There is more stating the obvious than there is going behind the scenes on the film to tell us something we don't know.

Director Shona Auerback contributes the most to the disc. Not only does she contribute to the previously mentioned featurette, but also she has her own interview. This is very enlightening compared to the bland featurette. Auerback is provided a lot of valid questions, though she seems to be in a hurry. The questions come and go at a pretty rapid rate. As well, Auerback provides a commentary track for the film. Here Auerback offers the most detailed explanations. She knows the film inside out and tries to cover up awkward silence voids whenever possible.

As well, like most DVD's, there is a collection of deleted scenes with optional commentary by Auerback. I think most would agree that these are better left removed. Generally deleted scenes are more DVD fillers than they are new and refreshing.
Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1 Measurement) The look of the picture is absolutely flawless. I am not sure about glitches in the DVD transfer because of the beautiful direction. There are scenes of the Scotland beaches and streets that look like something out of a landscape painting.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Sure the Dolby is always a plus, but it probably won't blow viewers out of the seat with this title. The sound is as good as it can get when it comes to dialogue. I notice that some films from the UK have poor dialogue tracks making the accents hard to make out. The speech in this film is crisp, loud, and clear. Though my favorite audio aspect has to be the music. Artists such as Damien Rice contribute to the wonderful array of tunes.
Standard DVD keep case. The film's stars, Gerard Butler and Emily Mortimer, are shown looking at one another in a loving embrace, while another photo of Butler and McElhone running down the beach is shown in the background. The front cover makes the drama look a little cheesier than it really is.
Dear Frankie does not join the ranks of one of the best films I have seen this year, but it certainly is an overlooked gem. Sure it is sappy at times, but the outstanding direction and performances go a long way. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to anyone, unless that person has distaste for overseas fare. It is hard not to like this poignant dramedy.

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