Despite symptoms of eminent cinema implosion-- such as plot told from a child's viewpoint, war and poverty as a side distraction, rose-colored predictions of the future, and more-- Frankie Starlight is a movie that has managed to surmount the cliched pitfalls of the typical coming-of-age, coming-to-America movie. Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, of Academy Award winner My Left Foot fame, achieved success in bringing to movie-goers a unique story interwoven with chaos and celebration, all the while making it realistic, artistically pleasant and, yes, even a bit romantic.
My introduction to Frankie Starlight came more than eight years after its 1995 release. A movie pal, far more knowledgeable in film study than myself, recommended it. For that I'm thankful. Shame on me, but being no fan of science fiction, I likely would have allowed the film title to push me away.
Based on Ronan O'Leary's internationally best-selling novel, The Dork of the Cork, Chet Raymo and O'Leary transformed the book into a screenplay closely aligned to the original literary work. Occasionally slow-moving, yet progressive, the dichotomy of the screenplay provides welcome respites exactly where needed in the storyline. Producer Noel Pearson changed the screenplay's title to Frankie Starlight.
Beginning two days prior to the Allied invasion of Normandy, Starlight relates the story of Bernadette Bois (played by Anne Parillaud), a teenage French girl, who witnesses the execution of her father by Nazi firing squad, followed a short time later by the suicide of her mother. In 1945, Bernadette stows away on a troop ship bound for Canada in attempt to escape war-ravaged France and come to America. In an attempt not to be reported to the ship's captain, she exchanges sexual favors with the GIs aboard the ship. Ultimately discovered and put off at the port of Cork in Ireland, Bernadette soon discovers herself pregnant with no idea which soldier is the father.
Irish actor Gabriel Byrne plays Jack Kelly, a soft-hearted immigration agent who allows Bernadette to enter Ireland illegally. He finds her a simple garret room in which to live and sees her through delivery of the child.
Bernadette's son, Frankie, is born into dwarfism. Frankie in his early years is played by young Irish actor Alan Pentony. In his break-out role at age 13, Pentony proves to be a convincing actor, turning in a strong and bittersweet performance. Corban Walker portrays Frankie as an adult and provides and equally good performance. Both actors are successful in their portrayal of Frankie's unspoken wonderment at the world in general and the night sky in particular. The entire movie is told through the eyes of Frankie in a series of artfully designed flashbacks.
Jack's wife, Effa, a devoutly religious woman, feels it is her Christian duty to provide a proper home for Bernadette and her dwarf son and moves them into her house. She soon discovers ties have developed between her husband and Bernadette, but turns a blind eye in hopes the situation will correct itself.
Jack entertains young Frankie by introducing him to astronomy. Brilliantly plated scenes throughout the movie find Jack and Frankie seated rooftop in their study of the night sky and its mythological history. As he becomes older, Frankie develops romantic fantasies for Emma, Jack's oldest daughter, who rebuffs his amorous sensitivity.
More than midway through the movie, Bernadette meets Terry Klout (aptly played by Matt Dillon), a former American soldier traveling through the British Isles. Passionate interests arise between the two, and Terry asks Bernadette and Frankie to accompany him back to his home in Texas. Try as they might, neither Bernadette nor Frankie can adapt to life in America and never feel they belong. Ultimately, both return to their Irish home.
Frankie's love for the nighttime sky continues throughout his life. Eventually, he authors a successful book entitled Night's Talker, embracing his love of astronomy and how it has and continues to influence his life. Quirky twists and strange traits among the film's characters provide unexpected plot development to the end.
"Starlight's" unique story is enhanced by the subtle mood cinematography of Paul Laufer as well as a distinctive music score by Oscar, Emmy, and two-time Golden Globe Winer, composer Elmer Bernstein.
Anne Parillaud's performance as Bernadette is sparse, yet convincing, and shows the weary loneliness that surrounds her character. This is in strong contrast to her starring role in 1990's "La Femme Nikita."
Gabrie Byrne, as a soft-spoken immigration official and Matt Dillon as a motorcycle-riding, adventure seeking American both present strong performances in roles they seem adept in portraying. Also of noteworthy mention is Georgina Cates who plays Jack's daughter, Emma, as a teenage girl. Her work fulfills the character but never comes across as giddy or overdone.
"Frankie Starlight" presents the story of wounded, but sincere hearts in each of its main characters, and accomplishes it without weepiness or over sentimentality-- a trait not often found in movies.
Roger Ebert awarded the movie a "thumbs up" plus three stars, while Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 71%. Janet Maslin of The New York Times called the movie "decent, but flawed" due mainly to the subdued acting a Anne Parillaud. I differ little, being evenly split between Ebert and Tomatoes, giving it 80%, and three-and-a-half stars. No doubt, my own love of the night sky and romance of astronomy influenced my favorable prejudice. "Frankie Starlight" remains one of my top ten favorites.
A sidebar of trivia for the movie aficionado is that this film is the first movie role of Academy Award winner actor, Colin Firth. He is shown as a movie house patron, a non-speaking role so small it is uncredited.
Running time is 104 minutes. Originally, the movie was rated "R" due to short scenes of minor sexual content. By today's standards, "Frankie Starlight" contains nothing that couldn't be discussed at morning breakfast.
Submitted by Vick Steward, OLLI Cinema Committee, Class Instructor and Study Group Coordinator