You might need a hankie, but no sick-bucket is required for Dear Frankie, a Scottish drama that tells its sentimental tale with pleasing understatement. The eponymous Frankie (Jack McElhone) is a nine-year-old deaf lad who's constantly on the move with his troubled mum Lizzie (Emily Mortimer). Keen to protect Frankie from the truth, Lizzie writes fake letters from his absent father whom he thinks is at sea. So when 'dad's ship' unexpectedly heads home, panic inspires an unlikely ruse that keeps the charade afloat but doesn't sink the film.
Enter one tall, dark, handsome stranger (Gerard Butler), hired by Mortimer to act as her son's old man for the day. Watching characters go to elaborate lengths to protect a loved one from the awful truth will seem nothing new if you've seen German comedy Good Bye, Lenin!, or Georgian drama Since Otar Left. But where the former film plays for satirical laughs and the latter offers insight into post-Soviet life, Shona Auerbach's directorial debut aims purely for the heartstrings. It reaches them well enough, even if the tears don't take long to dry once the end credits roll.
"SWEET AND SMART"
Acting as her own cinematographer, Auerbach captures painterly views of her Greenock setting as well as involving turns from a capable cast. Mortimer particularly impresses in a dowdier role than usual, bringing heartfelt conviction to Lizzie's actions, both tough and tender. Her bruising encounter with Frankie's genuine, abusive dad is as memorable as the new romance that tentatively buds in the second half.
Mortimer's Young Adam cast-mate, McElhone, is also fine in a tricky part: never too cute but believably bright, as in the scene where he smilingly corrects a fellow pupil's desk graffiti labelling him "Def Boy". Sweet and smart, it's a small moment in a film that doesn't chase after big ones and is all the more likeable for it.