Dear Frankie is a four hankie movie. It is a tearjerker about Lizzie, played by Emily Mortimer, who has fled from her abusive husband, and is raising her deaf son, Frankie (Jack McElhone). Instead of telling Frankie the terrible truth about his father, Lizzie tells the boy that his Dad is away at sea on a freighter named the Accra. Frankie writes to his old man, and his mother intercepts the letters and answers them herself.
Tearjerker moment number one: Lizzie says Frankie’s letters are important to her “because it’s the only way I can hear his voice.”
Everything is going well until the day that a ship named the Accra actually docks in Glasgow. Frankie assumes his father is on board, so to keep up the comforting lie she has told to her son, Lizzie decides to find a man who will pretend, temporarily, to be Frankie’s father. The man is played by Gerard Butler, who is no longer hiding his rugged good looks behind a mask as he did in the recent Phantom of the Opera. He is the fatherly stranger who brings comfort to both mother and son.
There are some lovely moments in this quiet little film, a good performance from Butler after the monumental flop of Phantom, but it is Emily Mortimer (Lovely & Amazing and Bright Young Things) as the struggling single mother who shines brightest.
Are there five more terrifying words in the English language than, “New Gerard Butler Romantic Comedy”? Butler is a good actor who makes lots of bad movies but his track record in the rom com department is particularly dire.
Critics hate these movies, calling the handsome Scottish actor’s attempts at mixing love and comedy, “instantly grating,” and “embarrassingly limited.” Only Katherine Heigl (Butler’s co-star in The Ugly Truth, called “ugly-ass crap” by Rolling Stone) has a worse track record.
This weekend he stars in Playing for Keeps the true story of a former sports star who pulls his life together through romance and, let’s hope, comedy.
The reviews have yet to come in for Playing for Keeps, but let’s hope it breaks his rom com track record and delivers some mushy, funny fun.
Rather than dwell on the bad stuff, in this column I’ll look at his more interesting performances—and no, that Jennifer Aniston movie won’t be included!
2002 was the year Butler became famous with big roles in Reign of Fire and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, opposite Angelina Jolie. Then he developed into a crossover star, taking roles in everything from sci fi flicks (Timeline), to musicals (The Phantom of the Opera) and even a rendering of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf (Beowulf & Grendel).
The film that turned him into a heartthrob, but one with serious dramatic chops, was Dear Frankie, a four hankie tearjerker about a single mother who resorts to trickery to keep the memory of her late husband alive in her son’s mind.
It was his next movie, however, that made him (and his meticulously crafted six-pack) a superstar. In 300 he’s King Leonidas, a Spartan who led three hundred soldiers against the might of the Persian army. It’s the film equivalent of a heavy metal concert—loud, brutal and completely uncompromising—and it made him an action hero.
A few years ago the website Gawker placed Butler on movie star probation, calling him a “professional bad decision maker” alongside Cuba Gooding Jr and John Travolta but Hollywood hasn’t been all bad for Butler.
Post 300 highlights include playing a charming mobster in the violent Guy Ritchie flick RocknRolla, voicing Stoick the Vast, the chieftain of a Viking tribe in the animated How to Train Your Dragon and Coriolanus, a modern dress version of a 1608 play by William Shakespeare.