By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 17, 2005 at 5:21 AM

{image1}Leave it to Britain -- in this case Scotland -- to give us another unassumingly wonderful film about a family trying to make the best of things. In the case of "Dear Frankie," directed by Shona Auerbach and written by Andrea Gibb, it's a story about a deaf boy and his mother.

Frankie (Jack McElhone) is 9 -- well, 9 and a half --- years old and he's deaf, although not by birth, but rather by accident. He's also smart as a whip and, as his mom says, "a champion lip-reader." He lives with his mom and grandma Nell (Mary Riggans) and he's fatherless, although he doesn't know it. That's because he carries on a correspondence with his dad, who works on a ship traversing the world.

What Frankie doesn't know is that his mom Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) is the one he's writing to and receiving letters from. However, when the HMS Accra is due to dock near Glasgow, Frankie is excited to meet his dad. How was his mom to know that there really was a ship with that name?

Lizzie has been trying for years to cover up the real story of Frankie's dad, who, it seems, left them when Frankie was just a baby. Now, she can either tell him the truth or...

What she does is hire a man (Gerard Butler, "The Phantom of the Opera") to stand in for a day as Frankie's dad, with a little help from her friend and boss, Marie (Sharon Small). But her plan has complications, some of which can certainly be guessed but the predictability of which still don't ruin a sweet film.

Will Frankie learn the truth? Will his real dad re-emerge to mess up the whole plan? Will Lizzie go insane trying to keep her son safe from the truth?

Filmed in pale tones appropriate for traditional ideas of Glasgow, which these days is a thoroughly modern and completely happening town, one wonders if the film is meant to be set in the '70s or earlier.

Mortimer is the cast standout, with her passionate portrayal of a conflicted mother trying to do the best for her boy. But it's hard to fault McElhone, Butler or Riggans, who also give great performances.

And Gibb deserves credit for ensuring that her script -- rife with potential for schmaltz -- never becomes bogged down with melodrama and cheesiness.

"Dear Frankie," rated PG-13 for language, opened Friday, April 15 at Landmark's Downer Theatre.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.