Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, 2014)
Sick of the same old shit being released at the cinemas? Want to curl up in the foetal position and rock from side to side when you hear that the latest Transformers movie has made $100 million in its opening week? Do you want to see something ORIGINAL? Then look no further, Frank is here. It’s a bit out of left field, but it should still be accessible for most audiences, assuming you can appreciate films outside of the action genre. And if you can’t, well, you’re a disgrace.
Frank is loosely inspired by comedian Chris Sievey’s alter ego, Frank Sidebottom. That Frank wore a giant fake head much like the one worn by Michael Fassbender in the film, and led an obscure band which included Frank screenwriter Jon Ronson on keys. Many years later, Ronson was asked to pen an article about his time in the band, and was subsequently approached about adapting the piece for film. Ronson has since explained that he grappled with how to depict Chris – the man behind the mask – as he was seemingly untroubled, which doesn’t necessarily make for a particularly fascinating story. Thus it was decided that Frank would be “a fable instead of a biopic – a tribute to people like Frank who were just too fantastically strange to make it in the mainstream”. Naturally there are Sidebottom fans who expected an accurate portrayal and were disappointed with this film. For the majority of viewers, however, the link to a true story will likely go unrealised. And this doesn’t necessarily matter.
One could argue that the leading character here is in fact Jon Ronson himself (‘Jon’ is played by Domhnall Gleeson), though to Ronson’s credit he isn’t portrayed as particularly likeable. He does, however, provide a large bulk of the laughs, particularly in the opening scene when he is attempting to write a hit song. Like Ronson, Jon unexpectedly finds himself a late addition to the band – here named the unpronounceable ‘Soronprfbs’ – where he relishes the opportunity to join forces with the mysterious and talented lead singer, Frank (Fassbender). Like Sidebottom, this Frank also wears a fake head, however he apparently never takes it off, even when eating and showering. Frank provides an enthralling look at the inside workings of a crazy band making weird-arse music that Jon fears the public will not appreciate. He admires Frank’s originality, but has bigger visions for the future of the band, which also includes psycho-bitch Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), mentally unstable band manager, Don (Scoot McNairy), Frenchman, Baraque (François Civil), and selective mute, Nana (Carla Azar).
A black comedy, Frank moves effortlessly between humour and darkness, to the point where you can never be too sure of the direction it is going in. The darker moments work against the bleak Dublin backdrop, while the British humour has a warm familiarity. Frank is pretty damn impressive for a directorial debut, and any accolades heaped upon Lenny Abrahamson are well-deserved. He is assisted by a strong cast, led by The Fass. The fact that he could put in such a convincing performance under a giant fake head only cements his status as one of the contemporary greats. He utilises his hot bod and voice well, and manages to simultaneously convey Frank’s pain while also managing to crack us up – Frank’s attempt at his “most likeable song ever” is hilarious. It does seem a shame to hide such a beautiful head and I spent the whole film praying that he would take it off. I’m sure most female (and some male) viewers would feel the same way. Maggie Gyllenhaal does a stellar job at playing crazy Clara, a kooky bitch ‘in love’ with Frank. Maggie is detestable in character but admirable in performance. She is also involved in the one scene in the film that did not sit well with me from a moral standpoint, but that’s not her fault. Domhnall Gleeson is a perfect fit for Jon – equal parts loser, arrogant, and someone you can root for – he is like a modern day Hugh Grant but less attractive.
The music itself is most likely not to everyone’s tastes – it’s pretty obscure – but this shouldn’t override your enjoyment of the film. Frank would have likely got lost upon release had it not been for the names attached, and it’s encouraging that there were actors out there willing to give such a film a chance. There’s nothing difficult to ‘get’ in Frank. It’s weird but it’s not THAT weird. Spend your money on a film that has earnt it, and not one made by Michael Bay.