Although the British drama "Dear Frankie" is free of the treacly sentiment that typifies this kind of movie, there are times when the sentiment is thick enough to border on becoming a full-fledged tearjerker.
Yet it's the lack of sentiment at the right time that proves to be the film's undoing.
Not to give too much of the plot away, but the ending is a bit frustrating; it's not the ending that audiences are probably expecting, and which the film seems to have earned.
But that's getting ahead of the game.
"Dear Frankie" manages to overcome most of its faults simply on the strength of its performances especially young Jack McElhone as the title character, Frankie Morrison, a 9-year-old hearing-impaired Scottish boy.
Frankie's mother, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), has been moving them from town to town for years, as she runs away from an abusive relationship. But to keep the boy's spirits up, she's been writing letters to him that have supposedly come from his father, whom she claims is a sailor out at sea.
Lizzie's mother (Mary Riggans) has grown tired of living this lie, so she begs her daughter to tell Frankie the truth. But, believing she knows what's best for him, Lizzie continues the ruse.
Eventually, the ship that Frankie's father is supposed to be on arrives in the local port. So Lizzie hires a complete stranger (Gerard Butler) to pretend to be Frankie's father for a day.
What happens from there well, most of it, at least is as predictable as you'd expect. And director/cinematographer Shona Auerbach and screenwriter Andrea Gibb have come up with a clumsy, tentative third act that suggests they had no idea how to end the movie.
But the cast is superb, including Butler, whose less-than-impressive performances in the big-screen "Phantom of the Opera" and "Dracula 2000" didn't really suggest he was capable of this kind of work.
And you can't blame his character for falling in love with both Mortimer's Lizzie and McElhone's Frankie, characters who are quite appealing despite their flaws (especially Lizzie's propensity for lying to cover up her feelings).
"Dear Frankie" is rated PG-13 for occasional use of strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word) and some sexually suggestive humor. Running time: 105 minutes.