Firstly, a confession: I never would’ve known about this movie had it not been for Gerry Butler‘s involvement. Right after I fell for him in Phantom of the Opera, I knew I had to watch everything else he’s in. Boy, am I glad I did as I LOVE this movie and it holds up really well with each repeat viewing.
The story takes place in a picturesque little town in Scotland. It centers around a single mom, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) who hires a “dad” for a day for her deaf son, Frankie. The family of three— Lizzie, her mom and Frankie— have been constantly on the move since she left her husband. Over the years, Lizzie has been pretending to be Frankie’s dad through the letters she writes to him (thus the title). It’s all good until the made-up ship where he supposedly sails on actually existed and is about to dock in their town. Frankie makes a bet with his friend that he’d finally meet his father, forcing Lizzie to find a man to fill that role.
The story pretty much picks up when the Lizzie meets the Stranger (Butler), a man with no past and no future, at a coffee shop. Butler’s magnetic presence pretty much grabs you the moment he orders his coffee (“Americano, strong!” in that irresistible Scottish brogue of his). The two days they spend together is truly the heart of the movie. The chemistry between him, Lizzie and Frankie is wonderful, and surprises abound as they discover each other. The moments between the Stranger and Frankie are incredibly touching as well, most of them happens without hardly any words being spoken as they stroll the beautiful Scottish locales together.
The father and son relationship, albeit a pseudo one, is heartwarming. The bond they share in such a short amount of time makes you wish they were a real family. There’s also a little romance mixed in, but it’s done in the most delightfully subtle way. My all-time favorite part in this movie is the doorway scene with the longest pre-kiss moment in movie history! Love is sweetest when you least expect it… as it catches both Lizzie and the Stranger completely off guard.
Director Shona Auerbach not only picked the right actors for the roles, but allowed them to shine in them. Young Scottish actor Jack McElhone is quite a revelation in the title role, convincingly portraying someone with a hearing disability. As he barely had any speaking lines, he had to act mostly with gestures and facial expressions, but he pulled it off remarkably. Mortimer is hugely sympathetic as the lonely single mother who’s still haunted by her dark past. You know Lizzie way over-protective of Frankie and her decision may be questionable, but you can’t help but feel for her. She’s definitely one of my all-time favorite movie moms. In the dance scene between her and the Stranger, her vulnerability and yearning for something special in her life is palpable. I also want to mention Sharon Small who’s also wonderful as Lizzie’s compassionate friend, Marie.
As for Butler, after following his career for 5+ years now, this is one of my all-time favorite performances. It’s a quiet and understated role that truly shows his dramatic chops as well as his on-screen charisma. What I love about Butler as an actor is how expressive he is. When he learns of a devastating secret about Frankie’s deafness, he deftly conveys his emotion with his eyes and subtle gestures. I would love to see him do a role like this again and find a director who knows how to capture his full potential.
The beautiful performances are harmonized with an evoking soundtrack and gorgeous scenery (set in Greenock, Scotland, near where GB grew up). I especially love Damien Rice‘s song Delicate used in the ‘skipping rock’ scene. I can’t recommend this film enough. Anytime you need a break from mainstream Hollywood fares, rent this tiny but poignant indie pronto!
For those of you who’ve seen this film, I’d love to hear what you think.