Frank (2014)

FrankJon (Domhnall Gleeson), a prolific Tweeter who still lives with his parents, is trying to make it as a musician. After witnessing an unhinged keyboard player attempt to drown himself in the sea, Jon is asked by Soronprfbs manager Don (Scoot McNairy) to join the band. Led by Frank (Michael Fassbender), an enigmatic figure who wears a large papier-mâché head, obscuring his true identity, the band — which includes Baraque (François Civil) on guitar and Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) on the theramin — travel to Ireland in order to record an album. While there, Jon — who has aspirations as a singer-songwriter — becomes increasingly frustrated by his own limited involvement in the creative process, and to expand his role within the group decides to record Frank’s recording sessions in order to build the band’s profile online. This leads to an invitation to appear at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, which Jon accepts despite the protests of Baraque and Clara.

Inspired by Frank Sidebottom, the comic persona of Chris Sievey which found fame in Manchester in the late 1980s, Frank is co-written by Jon Ronson, who used to be a member of the character’s Oh Blimey Big Band. Set in the present day, in the age of Twitter, YouTube and SXSW, the film reimagines Frank as an American urban legend. Lenny Abrahamson’s film is a strange one, occasionally reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Clara’s brand of dry humour is strikingly similar to that of Kim Pine) but probing much deeper than most films about aspiring musicians, even this year’s Inside Llewyn Davis. It is believed that Sievey signed off on the film prior to his death in 2010, but Frank has far less to do with Sidebottom as it does with fame in general. Not just fame either, but talent itself, and the effect that that talent has on other people.

Though his face is for the most part obscured by papier-mâché, Fassbender gives a terrifically physical performance as Frank, who seems to embody the famously fine line between genius and madness. Eccentric, manic and appreciably volatile, the character is a force to be reckoned with, though not by his bandmates, who without exception seem to follow him without question. There is still conflict — Clara clearly has feelings for Frank, while Don covets him for other reasons — but for the most part Soronprfbs (a gag not dissimilar to Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs‘ FLDSMDFR) seems to be a relatively harmonious team. Enter Jon, whose sense of entitlement seems to be greater than his actual talent, and who seems determined to worm his way into the band whether there is a place for him or not. Jon starts out as a sympathetic character, a little too relatable, but is soon revealed to be jealous and obsessive, verging finally on violent.

It is an incredibly powerful film, which could be analysed in a number of ways. The easiest parallel to draw is between Jon and the music industry, or even music fans, not only exploiting but ultimately corrupting the abilities of others. Frank, meanwhile, could be seen as an analogue for the public persona adopted by all public figures — be they artists, celebrities or politicians — who are attempting to mask or protect their weaker private selves. There are shades of domestic abuse in Jon’s maltreatment of Frank, and an element of self-delusion in the way Jon lies to Twitter and bemoans his happy childhood in the belief that it has somehow robbed him of artistic validation. Frank is at its most touching when dealing with mental illness, however, and as both Frank and Jon continue to unravel their respective journeys become all the more heartfelt and heart-breaking.

That’s not to suggest that Frank is a miserable watch; as the references to Scott Pilgrim and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs were intended to suggest, there is a surreal absurdity to it that somewhat lightens the load. Jon’s hashtags are wonderfully inane, Frank is completely bonkers and the songs are a joy. The tone is wacky and ironic, never more so than when Frank performs his most likeable song to the rest of the group, to rapturous applause from everyone but Jon, who is the only one thinking about commercial viability. Mostly, however, the comedy comes from the matter-of-fact treatment of the papier-mâché head, as Frank is revealed to wear it whether he is eating, showering or travelling through customs. It’s for this reason that the film stays with you so long after the initial viewing, for there is so much to unpack that you perhaps don’t appreciate while watching.

Though not always an easy watch, Frank is certainly an interesting one. It powers through a variety of genres, from comic book movie through social satire to black comedy, and though the gear changes may occasionally grind it is one hell of a ride. You might not understand it, you might not even particularly like it, but come year’s end Frank will be one of the few movies that is still playing on your mind.

4-Stars

 

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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