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Dear Frankie

A Special Delivery

Is there such a thing as virtuous deceit? It's easy to ponder this question while watching the bittersweet Dear Frankie. If the creation of a fantasy presents a more tolerable reality, perhaps a little deceit every now and then isn't such a bad thing.

Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) leads a semi-nomadic existence traveling from apartment to apartment with her mother (Mary Riggans) and bright, deaf son, Frankie. (Jack McElhone). Exactly why Lizzie and crew need to relocate so frequently is not apparent. But, what is apparent is that it appears to be part of an elaborately constructed ruse Lizzie has created.

Lizzie's ruse involves a fabricated correspondence between Frankie and his perpetually absent father. 'Dad' (aka Lizzie) religiously sends Frankie letters describing in vivid detail his travels at sea. What clearly started out as a lark has evolved into something Lizzie is barely able to manage.

Lizzie's elaborate deception is severely threatened when Frankie learns that his 'father's' ship is coming into port. Ecstatic at the prospect of at last meeting his seafaring father, Lizzie is forced to confront the reality of the situation or produce Frankie's father. Unwilling to confront reality, Lizzie manages to find a stranger (Gerard Butler) to act as a surrogate father. Of course, this initial encounter between 'father' and son evolves into something far more complicated than Lizzie ever could have predicted.

Emily Mortimer gives a haunting performance as Lizzie. Wary and nervous, Lizzie seems worn thin by whatever it is that keeps her moving from place to place. Gerard Butler's turn as Frankie's 'father' contrasts starkly with Lizzie's performance. Silent and calm, Butler assuages the underlying tension that seems to pervade Lizzie's household.

However, the real standout performance in Dear Frankie is that of Jack McElhone. McElhone plays the brilliant and charming Frankie. Hardly hindered by his handicap, Frankie has a zest for life that is effervescent. McElhone carries a challenging performance with relative ease. Limited by a role that doesn't allow for verbal expression, McElhone does an excellent job of using body language and facial expressions to eloquently express himself.

What director Shona Auerbach delivers here is an engaging story that manages to move the audience in a subtle and understated way. Dear Frankie walks a tightrope between the implausible and emotionally overwrought and somehow emerges on the other side unscathed. What emerges is a story that is heartrending, but hopeful.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5