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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*Enjoying reading face*
Have not seen this yet but it looks like an interesting film.
It is! Well worth your time in my book.
I’ve grown quite curious to screen this.
Make sure you do mate; it’s a gem.
Brilliant film, I absolutely loved it! Terrific review, bud :).
Thank you Joseph. I remember you liking this!
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.
Thank you Ruth. It’s a real one-off and, better still, all the cast play their own instruments!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
I can understand why people may take against this. Glad you liked that final sequence though; loved it.
Great review. Looking forward to seeing this!
Cheers! I’m pretty darned sure you’ll enjoy it!
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.
In all seriousness, can’t wait to check this one out Mark. It looks perfectly bizarre, and those are right up my alley.
Where you been Tom?? Yeah man; it’s a blast, I loved it.
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…?
I think so! Cheers for the feedback.
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.
They’re an eclectic bunch in Soronprfbs, that’s for sure! Gyllenhaal was great.
Another one I have to watch. Looks kinda wacky. Right up my alley. Thanks, Mark!
Try to watch it before the year’s out Vic as I think it will make it into your Top 10.
Ok, I will! Thanks.