I’d be lying if I said I wholly like “Dear Frankie,” but what makes this film worth a look is its tone of human circumstance. Every heartbeat in this understated story contains the big lie that a mother uses to raise her son, and yet the characters in this movie are appealing. We want their lives to go well.
Frankie, 9, writes letters to his dad. Mom arranges for all the letters to come to her. She writes back to Frankie as if his dad were responding.
Frankie is deaf, although he wasn’t born deaf. Raised at the bottom of the economic ladder in a life uprooted many times, he is, nonetheless, a bright and well-adjusted child.
A ship docks in Glasgow harbor. Frankie has been tracking this ship with pins stuck in a world map on his bedroom wall. Mom feels compelled to hire a man to pretend for one day that he is Frankie’s dad. For one day, his dad returns from a life at sea that was manufactured in a bunch of letters.
Such complications in a film typically promise torrents of drama as inevitable truths rip through vulnerable lives. Not so from first-time director Shona Auerbach, who chose to keep her dramatic arc small and relatively quiet. Indeed, the best moments are housed in silent places; for instance, a foot of space between Frankie’s mom and his supposed dad.
Some may find this story and all of the well-formed characters in it do not add up quite right. But when we look through movie windows, it’s always up to us whether we’re in it for the arithmetic.
I’d be lying if I said you can’t recommend something unless you like it without reservation.