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Part of our coverage of the 27th Denver International Film Festival

Dear Frankie has all the makings of a touching art-house favorite, imported from Scotland by Miramax. It’s foreign, and therefore “arty,” without being too challenging or too strange. That’s a horribly cynical thing to say about a movie and its audience, but as someone who is willing to play along and enjoy the film, I feel justified.

Truth from a Lie

One father's as good as another to Frankie
One father’s as good as another to Frankie

A single mother has been raising her only son to believe that his father really exists. “Dad” is a sailor on a big ship. He sends postcards and letters (written by mum) to a local P.O. Box where mum picks them up and deliver them to Frankie.

Frankie is deaf and mute (but he’s a champion lip-reader). He isn’t the most popular boy at school, and he often retreats into books. His favorites are books, videos, and even newspaper timetables about ships and the sea. His schoolyard tormentor gets the better of him one day, teasing him about his absent father. Frankie responds with a threat and a promise that his dad will be here soon — he’s seen the timetables and his father’s ship (a name mother picked from out of the blue) is arriving in just a few days.

Mom soon finds out, in disbelief and then distress, that “dad’s” ship is coming in. So she scrambles to find a man she can hire for a day to play Frankie’s father. He can’t be a local because the small town holds no secrets. Her friend hooks her up with a tall, haggard, mysterious stranger. If you’ve seen the trailers it’s not spoiling anything to say ... (and if you haven’t seen the trailers, maybe you should come back after you’ve seen the movie) ... that Frankie’s hired father may be a better fit for their family than mother could have ever hoped.

More than Just the Ending

If I were more cynical, I could recommend seeing only the trailer and skipping the movie. There’s really nothing to the story that isn’t captured by the promos. But of course there’s more to watching a movie than simply finding out the ending.

No, the reason to see Dear Frankie is not so much the story, but to let yourself be emotionally manipulated (and I admit it, am a sucker for this kind of movie). The emotion in Dear Frankie tugged at my heartstrings, but not so strongly that I started to gag. And because the film is genuinely Scottish, and not some Americanized, Disneyfied, schmaltz, it was easy to enjoy it on its own humble terms. The emotion in Dear Frankie feels like it’s coming from a na├»ve heart, and not from some Hallmark shill.

So give Dear Frankie a chance if it sounds like your kind of movie. It’s definitely not for everyone, including some of Denver’s more hardened critics (who are sure to tease me if they ever read this). But for people like my parents, or even like me, it’s a nice little emotional ride.