If you thought In America was sticky with saccharine, family-accented pathos, behold the confection that is Dear Frankie. The connect-the-plot concerns Lizzie (an unfortunately numbed-down Emily Mortimer) and Frankie (Jack McElhone), her deaf son. Telling Frankie that his estranged father is a sailor, and maintaining correspondence via a secret P.O. box, Lizzie must procure someone to perpetuate the fiction when the father’s alleged ship turns out to be not only nonfictional but en route. (He’s played by fantasy object Gerard Butler, though there’s a brief moment of panic when it looks like Lizzie’s accomplice might turn out to be middle-aged and bald.) For a story hinging on deceit, though, things consistently refuse to get messy; big speeches and aching ballads strain forth at more or less regular intervals, forcibly uplifting moments of bonding and personal growth.
McElhone might have been more effective as a deaf child were the character not invested with miraculous lip-reading ability. Frankie doesn’t seem to be missing out on anything, easily absorbing hefty monologues delivered by the creepily precocious Stepford kids he has the misfortune of befriending. It’s a shame about that, because the movie comes closest to finding itself in silence: Auerbach, acting as her own cinematographer, has some nicely meditative shots. They’re the most promising element of her feature debut, and the only part not operating under the principle that the way to a man’s heart is right through his chest.