Dear Frankie, The Spoiler Fest!
By Kristin Battestella
Are you ready for a new spoiled filled and conjecture laden analysis on the 2004 charmer Dear Frankie?
This is your last call to stay with my straight laced review here before getting down and deep with the lingering juicy and thought provoking this lovely little film provides!
1. When does Frankie know The Stranger isn’t his Father?
Young Frankie seems to immediately know something isn’t right when he reads and crumbles the newspaper in his pocket, and most likely has his suspicions confirmed when he gets home and checks his now unrealistic map. He has to make the bet with his friends to save face, but he’s angry on his way home, running up the stairs and tracing the boat motif on the wall as he goes up in physical representation of his silent realization – they have been the ones on the move, not the Accra ship he’s read about in his letters. He later writes a letter, perhaps coming to terms with it by saying he understands if his dad can’t get shore leave but hopes he’ll be at the soccer trials nonetheless. Is this Frankie’s way of asking for his mother’s help? He knows the truth, but not the why and is reluctant to look in his mother’s locked closet for answers. She’s loves him and has gone through so much trouble – Frankie wants an explanation, but doesn’t want to hurt her. He even says right from the beginning that he knows about the boat and thinks that his dad just doesn’t want to see him. Later, Frankie also writes that he suspected his dad may have been sick a long time already and either can’t or won’t see them. He also suspects that they moved there because his mom wanted to have his dad find them, suggesting that he has already let go and now it’s her turn to leave the past. He writes his shortest letter to accompany the drawing he knows is going to his real dying father. At that point he has apparently known for awhile, and has already forgiven his dad.
It’s also possible that Marie tells Frankie everything when he runs out on the morning before the Stranger’s arrival, or he may tell her he knows and they all go along with it for Lizzie’s sake. Either way, Frankie knows all along the Stranger is not his dad, but he loves the book and is impressed with the lengths taken for this new charade. The Stranger has taken the time to read his letters, doesn’t eat fish at Frankie’s behest, and willingly helps win his bets. The dear boy wants to enjoy the illusion for the day, and writes to Marie on her order pad that this is his dad, perhaps telling her he is pleased with the Stranger and agrees with the matchmaking possibility. We don’t hear their conversation, but Frankie was probably the one who wanted the Stranger to take him the dock and as close to the ship as he would get. The Stranger gives himself away as a non-seaman by saying “go on” instead of ‘onboard,’ but is also implying he would break the ship’s rules and take Frankie aboard if he so desired. Frankie in turn, keeps the skipping rock rather than tossing it in new appreciation of the Stranger’s devoted efforts. Honestly, it’s not a case of when Frankie knew, it’s why we ever thought he was so fooled because the charm of Dear Frankie had us fooled.
2. Why do they have the second day with The Stranger?
It is the Stranger, not Frankie who suggests the idea of a second day with all three of them, and Frankie looks over their stair railing while the Stranger talks to his grandmother – knowing Lizzie was not at home because she was following them throughout their day. The Stranger has asked Frankie to chaperone a new date – they have had their day to resolve his bet and now it is her turn. This notion certainly confirms Frankie has known all along, for his mother said his father would see him, but not her. Now, however, the Stranger has asked for more time for all of them together and she is dressing up and wearing make up for their afternoon. Where Nell had always spoken ill of his father before, she now sits on the bed with Frankie and compliments the skipping rock his “daddy” gave him. She wears her hair in rollers, puts on nail polish, and has a girl’s moment with her daughter as if all is well again. Until the ill news about the real dad Davey has her symbolically wiping off that polish thereafter.
The Stranger also tells Frankie he is in charge for the second day, and the boy sits the adults next to each other whenever possible, runs ahead as they walk together, has them eat from the same snack bag, and even rolls his eyes at the way they are looking but not looking at each other. He nudges Marie into making them stay for the dance, and Lizzie plays with her wedding ring several times. She is definitely thinking about the possibilities of the Stranger despite her insistence to the contrary. Frankie also seems to pick up on the fact that Marie’s boyfriend and the Stranger have already met – he gives a thumbs up when the men comment about all the beers they can drink. Is it a coincidence that they sing Lizzie’s favorite song at the dance? Of course not, and the music fades out because we are seeing and hearing Frankie’s perspective of his ‘parents’ dancing and falling in love.
Frankie may even pretend to be asleep so he can be carried by the Stranger. He stresses that he wants him to come back, not his real dad, and gives him the sea horse to remember their moment at the aquarium together. The Stranger answers he doesn’t know if he’s coming back – not because he and Frankie haven’t bonded or that the Stranger doesn’t want to, but because Lizzie has to make the call. She has to make the first romantic strides. Rather than saying something like ‘I love you, son,’ the Stranger says, “We are all connected,” confirming if Frankie had any doubts about him not being he real father. They both know they are not united by blood or law but have connected over this time, and hopefully that will be enough for her, too. That unforgettable doorway minute, the way the Stranger waves goodbye at the window, even Nell seems sad over her cigarette the next morning – it’s clear no one wants the Stranger to leave but not the week before they had been running from Frankie’s dad. Clearly, a new page has been turned for not just Frankie, but now Lizzie as well.
3. What did the Stranger actually do?
Was the Stranger truly a sailor with a ship soon departing? Probably not, although he does claim to have business at the docks. Is it some nefarious cargo perhaps? He repeatedly claims that his ship sails on Monday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is setting sail. The Stranger drinks Americano coffee and doesn’t quite dress like a sailor or merchant man either. He obviously pays the man to stand on the ship, for though it’s not subtitled, you can hear someone yell something like ‘Hey! Who’s that?’ when the Stranger waves from the Accra. He maintains he’s not a betting man, but he makes several bets just like Frankie and insists on not revealing his own history even when Lizzie says their arrangement has changed. He seems to agree on the change as well, even though he initially only expected a paying job for a day. He picks up the baby photo of Frankie, is almost overcome by Frankie’s reaction to his gift book, and feels uncomfortable fully embracing him despite his apparent success at the fatherly ruse. Did he loose a child perhaps? How did Marie know to set up her brother with Lizzie unless she knew they might share a similar pain and healing need? The Stranger stares at Frankie, studies his face against the fish tank, and enjoys experiencing these childhood races and simplicities. Were these opportunities previously taken from him? Marie says Lizzie need not fear that the Stranger will take Frankie from her, but he has no problem interacting with the boy. Yes, the Stranger forgets Frankie is deaf from time to time but he doesn’t go out of his way to treat him differently, either. The Stranger also doesn’t seem to need the money, as he buys the book, tips the dock man, and pays for all the food and beers before he secretly gives Lizzie back her unopened money envelopes. Why does he let her think he was doing it for the pay alone, to keep up the pretense that her ruse is a success? He and Marie cover up on the beer and cigarettes mistake and tell Lizzie what she wants to hear. In the end, does it matter who he was before? Now he is everything Lizzie and Frankie want him to be.
4. Does the Stranger come back to Lizzie and Frankie?
Frankie takes down his map and throws the skipping stone away after his last letter, meaning they are all starting fresh without the previous charade. Why does the Stranger even go at all? Lizzie was still technically married, and perhaps the Stranger did have business that needed to be attended to, but these are small hurdles compared to what Lizzie and Frankie have already overcome. They need to grieve for Davey briefly, close the final chapter on the bleak past before facing the bright future. When the Stranger returns, he will do so as himself totally, without Frankie’s real father overshadowing them. Lizzie tells the dying Davey that Frankie has a new father and waits until he is dead before asking Marie who the Stranger was. She closes her post office box thereafter, and is surprised to find Frankie’s letter to the Stranger there. How else was the boy to share his thoughts on the matter? He wanted his mom to know and sends the picture for her – he also posted the letter on his own, proving he knew she was the one who handled them previously. Frankie addresses the last letter with “thanks for the book…Ma and I had a shock… Your friend, Frankie.” He has let go of his real father, the Accra illusion, and now remains open to a future with the Stranger. Mother and son now sit hopefully in wait, with Lizzie having accepted that she doesn’t have to be both parents any longer. Sniff sniff.
5. Why, why have the director and writer not done a sequel to Dear Frankie or made more films?
Beat the $%^@ out of me but I wish they would!