Review – Frank

Anyone who begrudgingly comes to accept their true talent lies not in what they’d hoped will find a connection to this unique and idiosyncratic story about those blessed with artistic creativity and those who hitch along for the ride.

With a free will and an outsider's spirit all of its own, Frank is a wonderful one-of-a-kind

With a free will and an outsider’s spirit all of its own, Frank is a wonderful one-of-a-kind

It’s a fair bet to say that a good number of critics have at least entertained the idea of doing the very thing they write about. In most cases these dreams remain unfulfilled, consigned to the ‘what if’ section of our brain.

In Jon Ronson’s case, he did it the other way around, having played a purposefully cheap sounding keyboard for three years in Frank Sidebottom’s Oh Blimey Big Band in the 1980s before going on to become a highly respected gonzo journalist and writer of such books as The Men Who Stare At Goats, which went on to receive mediocre treatment in a film of the same name starring George Clooney and Ewan McGregor.

The various members of Soronprfbs, including François Civil's Baroque, keyboardist Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), manager Don (Scoot McNairy) and the erratic Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in Frank

The various members of Soronprfbs, including François Civil’s Baroque, keyboardist Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), manager Don (Scoot McNairy) and the erratic Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in Frank

Ronson’s time with Frank and his real life alter-ego Chris Sievey inspired this bittersweet tale of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), an office drone and wannabe songwriter whose monotonous existence spent living with his parents in a dead-end seaside town changes overnight when he stumbles across the members of Soronprfbs, an avant-garde band led by the larger-than-life Frank (Michael Fassbender), who constantly wears a giant papier-mache head that features an unblinking look of mild surprise.

Jon, like us, is fascinated by the man beneath the fake head and jumps at the chance to join Soronprfbs on a full-time basis as they take to a cottage in the middle of nowhere to record their new album, a year-long process that involves extreme levels of self-indulgence as anything and everything is toyed around with to create the perfect sound.

The band get busy working on their new album - toothbrushes included - in Frank

The band get busy working on their new album – toothbrushes included – in Frank

All the while, Jon chronicles Soronprfbs’ journey through Twitter and YouTube and creates a social media-fuelled monster that leads to a possible big break, but also threatens to destroy the soul of the band and damage the fragile Frank.

It’s not until a good way through the film that you realise just how many levels Frank is working on. In another picture, Jon’s voyage of self discovery would end in a very different – and predictable – way, but rather than helping to inspire the band to achieve deserved success, the actions he takes only end up serving his own deluded ambitions.

The ying and yang of Frank (Michael Fassbender) - Maggie Gyllenhaal's uncompromising Clara and Domhnall Gleeson's Jon, who just wants to be loved

The ying and yang of Frank (Michael Fassbender) – Maggie Gyllenhaal’s uncompromising Clara and Domhnall Gleeson’s Jon, who just wants to be loved

In a painfully well observed opening, Jon tries in vain to fashion a song out of his mundane experiences, only to take to social media to justify his banal existence through pointless tweets. His striving for validation is sought not only from his growing number of Twitter and blog followers whom he panders to with a running commentary of ‘aren’t I crazy’ posts, but also from his fellow band mates, who mostly look at him with indifference, in particular Maggie Gyllenhaal’s erratic theremin player Clara (who comes across like a Wes Anderson version of Karen O from the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs).

Like Amadeus‘ Salieri, Jon knows his talent cannot match that of Frank, so instead becomes a leech in the hope his genius can somehow rub off on him. What Jon doesn’t factor in is Frank’s evident mental illness, which manifests itself through the character’s increasingly unstable behaviour.

Hello audience!! The titular Frank (Michael Fassbender) gets all dolled up

Hello audience!! The titular Frank (Michael Fassbender) gets all dolled up

It’s an admirable turn from Gleeson in a role that’s unlikable only in so much as it’s so painfully believable. Jon almost always means well, but loses his way and drags the band down with him when the prospect of fame and fortune rear their heads.

Considering we cannot see the character’s facial expressions, Frank is a captivating presence, thanks in no small part to Fassbender’s physical performance that lends the character a tragicomic edge which grows more troubling as the film nears its climax. Frank is a blank slate is many ways, a character defined by the ying of Jon’s desire to be loved and break big and the yang of Gylenhaal’s Clara, who has an indefatigable refusal to compromise for fear of selling out. Torn between both sides, the cracks in his personality threaten to break apart.

Frank’s static expression takes on a different inclination depending on the angle of Fassbender’s body and the way he turns his giant fake head, while the film’s final reel is given an extra wallop by the actor’s coiled delivery of the film’s signature tune I Love You All.

Working from a script by Ronson and fellow scribe Peter Straughn (who also penned the screenplay for The Men Who Stare At Goats), director Lenny Abrahamson skirts passed twee farce and instead hits us with a film that’s as moving as it is funny and painful.

With a free will and an outsider’s spirit all of its own, Frank is a wonderful one-of-a-kind.

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28 comments

  1. Movie Quibble · September 21, 2014

    *Enjoying reading face*

  2. Nostra · September 21, 2014

    Have not seen this yet but it looks like an interesting film.

  3. le0pard13 · September 21, 2014

    I’ve grown quite curious to screen this.

  4. Joseph@thecinemamonster · September 21, 2014

    Brilliant film, I absolutely loved it! Terrific review, bud :).

  5. ruth · September 21, 2014

    This one does sound very intriguing and the cast is wonderful. I didn’t realize Maggie Gyllenhaal is in this as well. Great review Mark, I definitely be up for renting this one.

    • Three Rows Back · September 23, 2014

      Thank you Ruth. It’s a real one-off and, better still, all the cast play their own instruments!

  6. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · September 22, 2014

    Cracking review mate and I totally agree. I think I’d even go as far to say this is my favourite film of the year so far. Absolutely loved it.

    • Three Rows Back · September 23, 2014

      Fantastic. It’s in the Top 10 for me for sure, maybe Top 5. Pleased as punch it’s your favourite of the year mate.

  7. Stu · September 22, 2014

    Nice work Mark, enjoyed reading as always. I haven’t seen this but will definitely be checking it out at some point. I saw Mr Sidebottom live way back in the 1990s – so odd to think of him being portrayed in a film by Michael Fassbender, of all people.

    • Three Rows Back · September 23, 2014

      Thank you – as always. That’s fantastic you saw Frank Sidebottom; a regret of mine. I regularly watched Frank Sidebottom’s Fantastic Shed Show on ITV back in the day. RIP Chris Sievey.

  8. davecrewe · September 22, 2014

    Nice review; I didn’t hate this one, but I couldn’t enjoy it on the level you obviously did (though I love that final musical sequence).

    • Three Rows Back · September 23, 2014

      I can understand why people may take against this. Glad you liked that final sequence though; loved it.

  9. whirlwindsupernova · September 23, 2014

    Great review. Looking forward to seeing this!

  10. ckckred · September 25, 2014

    Nice review, though I have to disagree. While I admired the creative directions Abrahamson took as well as Fassbender’s performance, the quirky tone and bizarre surrealistic nature irritated me and I found the ending to be overlong. Also, the social networking aspect really seems to be overdone in today’s movies.

  11. Tom · September 30, 2014

    I’m back.

    Miss me?

    – Frank.

    In all seriousness, can’t wait to check this one out Mark. It looks perfectly bizarre, and those are right up my alley.

    • Three Rows Back · September 30, 2014

      Where you been Tom?? Yeah man; it’s a blast, I loved it.

  12. mlbradford · September 30, 2014

    Good review for an interesting film.
    From th trailer, it looks like Fassbender does not even try to do th voice.
    Btw, is it REALLY Michael Fassbender underneath that papier-mache head…?

  13. Mark Walker · October 10, 2014

    Spot on work here, buddy! I watched this the other night and really enjoyed it. I thought it was marvellous. Fassbender was outstanding considering his limitations. And that ending of “I Love You All” really struck a chord with me! Great little flick. I’ve already written my review but I probably won’t post till Monday.

  14. criticalmoviecritics · October 29, 2014

    They’re an eclectic bunch in Soronprfbs, that’s for sure! Gyllenhaal was great.

  15. Victor De Leon · November 21, 2014

    Another one I have to watch. Looks kinda wacky. Right up my alley. Thanks, Mark!

    • Three Rows Back · November 22, 2014

      Try to watch it before the year’s out Vic as I think it will make it into your Top 10.

      • Victor De Leon · November 22, 2014

        Ok, I will! Thanks.

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