Dear Frankie is a little gem of a movie. A small Scottish indie film, almost completely ignored on its initial release which I discovered in my other job as a film reviewer. It stars Gerard Butler (whose next role was as the Phantom of the Opera), the waif-like Emily Mortimer and nine-year-old newcomer Jack McElhone, who plays her son and his pretend son (more on that confusing role description shortly). And if you haven’t seen it already, I’m going to give it the hard sell now, because I think this movie deserves to have a cult following amongst us romance connoisseurs.
A Word of Warning:
But firstly, I should point out for all those who find Mr Butler drools-worthy (which I have to admit I didn’t until I saw this movie), this is not a chick-flick and not even really a romance in the conventional sense. With only one slow-dance and a tentative kiss between Butler’s character and Mortimer’s, the romance is definitely UNDERSTATED. So don’t hire this movie expecting lots of snogging or steamy moments or quick-fire sassy dialogue. That said, I think the relationship between the two adults is developed so beautifully and so tantalisingly that there’s more than enough sexual tension to go round and their one kiss is so tender, sweet and yet subtly sexy it generated more than enough steam for me.
Now for the Hard Sell:
Okay, to the plot which has a premise us lovers of category romance will totally identify with.
Here’s how it’s described on the DVD jacket:
'Nine-year-old Frankie and his mother Lizzie have been on the move ever since Frankie can remember. Wanting to protect her deaf son from the truth that they’ve run away from his father, Lizzie has invented a story to satisfy her son’s curiosity. Regularly, Lizzie writes Frankie a make-believe letter from his father, telling of his adventures as a merchant seaman in exotic lands. However, with his father’s make-believe ship arriving in a fortnight, Lizzie must choose between telling Frankie the truth or hiring a stranger to fulfil her son’s need for a father…’
Right, so Lizzie hires this guy to pose as her son’s father for a single day. She meets him in a drab café, gives him the letters she’s been writing to Frankie and he agrees to turn up at their little flat and take Frankie out pretending to be his dad Davey. Why doesn’t she just tell Frankie the truth you ask? Once you meet Frankie and hear the letters he’s been writing to his Dad for years and know how excited he is about finally meeting him you’ll know why she doesn’t. And anyway, once you’ve met the Stranger—tough, gorgeous, taciturn, enigmatic and oddly intuitive not just about her son, but also about her — you won’t want her to either.
Here’s a little snippet of conversation from their first meeting to give you an idea:
Lizzie: ‘You must think I’m completely mad asking a total stranger to do this. I
don’t know who the hell you are but I’m asking you if you’ll do it. I don’t have
much but I’ll pay you what I can.’
He stares at her (giving her what definitely qualifies as a smouldering look in my book), then picks up the photo of a three-year-old Frankie and studies it. Then he simply says: ‘What time do you want me there?’
Have I hooked you yet? Surely this is prime Mills and Boon territory, maybe a lot more Silhouette Special Edition than Modern — given that Lizzie and her son are on the breadline and the Stranger she hires is a rough-around-the-edges merchant seaman (complete with very sexy leather jacket, I might add) — but still the potential for heart-warming romance is obvious.
Shona Auerbach, the director, lets the romance evolve organically (if you like) from the relationship of all three of the main characters. The boy (played with a refreshing lack of sugar by Jack McElhone) is the catalyst, but he’s also a very important and real character in his own right and in a way, much of the story is seen through his eyes. The gorgeous scene when he meets his ‘fake’ Dad for the first time and rushes up to hug him is a guaranteed tearjerker, but not for the obvious reasons. The Stranger stands there, not sure whether to hug the boy back and we suddenly realise how vulnerable he is too in this situation.
Of course, the man and the boy bond during that first day out together and The Stranger (I have to keep calling him that, because we never find out his name) puts Lizzie on the spot by suggesting they go out together as a family the next day in front of Frankie. She’s outraged by his gall and, as soon as Frankie’s out of earshot, she lets him have it:
Lizzie: We had an arrangement and you broke it.
Stranger: One more day, that’s all I’m asking for.
Lizzie: No, I want you to go now. It’s over. Do you hear me? It’s over.
Stranger: My ship sails on Monday. There is only one more day.
Lizzie: Who the hell do you think you are? Who the hell gave you the right to come in here and behave like this?
You did. [He pauses, looks at her] He’s waited all this time. You’ve waited all this time…
Now, come on. Doesn’t that give you a warm, fuzzy feeling? What happens the next day is packed full of warm, fuzzy feelings as this tall, dark, handsome, tough and yet tender stranger teaches Lizzie to trust men again.
This is an absolutely wonderful film – and I haven’t even mentioned the supporting characters: Lizzie’s disapproving Mum, her new best mate who runs the local chippie, the little girl Frankie befriends at school. All real, all brilliantly rounded and all adding even more believability and emotional truth to what, on paper, sounds like a contrived story.
Take it from me, it’s not.
If I have one quibble, it’s that by the end of the film you’re crying out to know more about Gerard Butler’s character. What’s his name? What’s his past? How comes he relates so well to Frankie and to Frankie’s mother? And why does he seem so lonely at times? But then as lovers of category romance, here at the PHS, we can let our imaginations do that bit for us.
I certainly did.
Warm and Fuzzy rating: 9 out of 10 easy.
Heidi’s second Modern Extra THE MILE HIGH CLUB is out this month in the UK. Will be out in January next year in Aus/NZ as a Sexy Sensation and is scheduled for release in the US as a Presents in March 2008 under the title THE MILLIONAIRE’S BLACKMAIL BARGAIN.
After an incendiary one-night stand with best-selling novelist Jack Devlin, lowly editorial assistant Mel Rourke is hired to write his profile. Whisked off to Paris and New York she joins the jet set (and the mile-high club) in fine style, but only for two weeks.
Because the only thing Jack is willing to offer her is an extremely passionate Christmas affair…
Find out more about the book on Heidi’s website, www.heidi-rice.com.