Dear Frankie and Mail Order Wife (review)

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True Lies

Hooray! Dear Frankie is finally — finally! — getting released. I saw this film ages ago, last summer, when it was slated to open last October, and then disappeared… I suspect because Miramax was waiting to capitalize on the presumed insanity that would surround The Phantom of the Opera, in which Frankie‘s Gerard Butler also stars. I don’t know how much Phantom‘s critical and box-office flopping is affecting that supposed plan, but if you’ve seen Phantom, don’t let that stop you from checking out Frankie — Butler doesn’t sing in this one.

He is, in fact, extraordinary, which may come as a surprise if you’ve only had a chance to see him in crap like Phantom or Timeline. But he doesn’t come into the story for a while.
See, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer: Young Adam) is a woman constantly on the move with her son, nine-year-old Frankie (Jack McElhone, who also appeared in Young Adam, though not alongside Mortimer). They’re obviously on the run from something — we don’t know what — and Frankie’s dad is not in the picture. But, poor kid, he’s lonely, a result of the regular changing of towns and schools as well as his deafness, separating him from the other kids, and so to assuage his loneliness, Lizzie has been forging letters from “Davey,” Frankie’s sailor dad (that’s what she’s told her son, anyway), all full of tales of exotic ports of call and adventure on the high seas. It’s been working like a charm, but now, the real ship that “Davey” is supposedly serving on will be docking at their little seaside town, and Frankie knows it, couldn’t be more excited at the prospect of finally meeting his father.

The crashing down of the carefully protective web of lies that Lizzie has been weaving for years creates a heartbreaking kind of suspense that leaves you aching for everyone — Lizzie’s been lying out of love, but will Frankie understand that if he learns the truth? Do we even want his comforting illusion shattered? And it only gets more raw and more distressing when Lizzie, out of desperation, hires a Stranger (Butler), a friend of a friend, to impersonate “Davey” — we don’t trust this Stranger; he looks like a hard case who’ll abandon Frankie and his little-boy dreams as soon as the limited hours Lizzie’s hard-earned money can afford run themselves out. And will it even work? Will Frankie be fooled? The moment of his meeting with the Stranger is one of the most emotionally precarious moments I’ve seen on film in ages.

I won’t tell you what happens — go see the film. It’s inexpressibly wonderful — director Shona Auerbach and writer Andrea Gibb have found all sorts of ways to depict tender moments of unspoken love and the wisdom and sweetness of children — and will require at least four hankies if you’re anything like me.

Take my wife
Another film concerned with lies and letter writing opens this week, though it’s waaay at the other end of the emotional spectrum. Mail Order Wife, a hilarious black comedy, is all about puncturing balloons of self-importance and stripping away the veneers of maturity that just barely overlay petty juvenile hearts. No hankies will be required… unless you laugh so hard that some of your super combo soda comes out your nose. It’s that kind of movie.

Andrew is a documentary filmmaker following the romantic adventure of Adrian, a regular guy from Queens, New York, as he acquires a bride from Burma, a demure young lady named Lichi. Adrian is such a sad sack of a schmoe — in a letter to Lichi, he describes himself as being in “security and property management” (he’s a doorman) — and Andrew’s judgment is questionable, at best — he gives Adrian thousands of dollars to offset the expense of bringing Lichi to America — that if this were a real documentary you’d never forgive the film for being so, well, shady, and you’d be right to be suspicious. But it’s all fake: Andrew is cowriter and codirector (with Huck Botko) Andrew Gurland, Adrian is actor Adrian Martinez (Taxi), and Lichi is Charlotte Sometimes‘ Eugenia Yuan. No real mail-order brides were hurt in the making of this film.

And so we learn of Botko and Gurland’s real target: it’s not sad-sack schmoes who bring Asian girls over to clean the toilets, as well as to perform other unsavory wifely chores, it’s documentary filmmakers who get overly involved with their subjects. You can’t begin to imagine the outrageous, twisted turns the saga of Adrian, Lichi, and Andrew takes, but suffice to say that the motto of the agency Adrian used to find Lichi — “Paradise Girls: The Women Men Deserve” — turns out to be accurate in unexpected ways. You end up almost feeling sorry for Adrian, who’s more pathetic than anything else. But Andrew is a smug, superior son of a bitch, and witnessing his comeuppance is delicious. And highly amusing.

Dear Frankie
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics
rated PG-13 for language
official site | IMDB

Mail Order Wife
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics
rated R for language and some disturbing sexual material
official site | IMDB

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