FRANK | 2014, Ireland / UK | Comedy | Directed by – Lenny Abrahamson / Produced by – David Barron, Ed Guiney, Stevie Lee / Written by – Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan / Music by – Stephen Rennicks / Cinematography – James Mather / Edited by – Nathan Nugent / Starring – Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Michael Fassbender, Carla Azar, Francois Civil / Running time: 95 mins.
Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is loosely based on the story of Frank Sidebottom, the stage persona of cult musician and comedian Chris Sievey. However, this is only a starting point for the film. Frank is rewarding because it speaks universally, beginning with the simple fact that it charms by touching on the fact that most people dreamt of starting a band at some point in their lives, and some even attempted to put it together. But on another, less superficial level, it also offers a candid tale illustrating themes of creativity, manipulation and the contrast between one’s true self compared to the externalization of the self.
Frank is seen from the point of view of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson, in show-stealing form), a keyboardist who suddenly finds himself a member of the alternative and improbably named band, The Soronprfbs. They are brilliant and experimental, but also total oustiders. They are built around the figure of the titular character. Frank (Michael Fassbender), is a charismatic and enigmatic musical genius who at all times wears a large, round fake head. And then there is Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a sort of caretaker for the band, who seems to exert a mysterious controlling power on Frank.
Jon is so taken by The Soronprfbs, seeing them as his one big shot as making his talent heard, that he commits to spending his savings on a band’s retreat to a lakeside house to record an album. The stay will last 18 months, during which tensions will inevitably arise.
Part of the delight of Abrahamson’s film is that it is an honest behind the scenes look at those eccentric and colourful alternative band, totally committed to their art to the point of delusion, which somehow miss the mark and never achieve the mainstream success they hope for. The director understands the absurdist side of such colourful personalities; as a result the film finely flirts with surrealism but also makes great use of many different types of humour. All this is also handled with such care that style never seems to go over the top. Thematic intentions are always controlled, so that the psychological text underlining the scattered narrative remains a strong driving force in the movie.
Furthermore, this is a film in which opposites collide in a utopian setting. In the lakeside house, reality remains a distant thought. Still, internal ordeals experienced by the characters are very real and near. Jon, for instance, indulges in self-gratifying thoughts of his own strength and genius, yet these assets do not seem to come to the fore in his music and his writing. At the same time, Frank, concealed behind that grinning cartoonish head of his, is distant and mysterious, but eventually becomes a melancholic and even tragic figure. This is another great aspect of the movie, which once again must be credited to the director – the unusual element of Frank, somewhat confrontational from a traditionalist filmic point of view, manages to become absolutely naturalistic and perfectly integrated within a perfectly real-world situation. 5/5