Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy
Off-beat comedies built around quirky individuals have a disconcerting tendency to fall apart under the weight of their own attempts to add in a large enough quantity of wacky moments. Frank, a film starring Michael Fassbender wearing a papier-mâché head, and loosely based on the life of cult musician and comedian Frank Sidebottom neatly avoids such missteps, developing into a soulful and frequently funny exploration of creative genius, unique vision versus mainstream success and deteriorating mental health. Add in a selection of weird and wonderful songs and it’s onto a winner.
Frank may be the titular lead, but it’s through the eyes of aspiring musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) that the story unfolds. Stuck in his sleepy seaside town attempting, and failing, to write a decent pop song, he stumbles upon Frank’s band, the Soronprfbs’ and ends up joining as the drummer. Whisked away to an Irish retreat to write their musical masterpiece, he sets about trying to win them more followers while pioneering a market oriented sound that drives a giant wedge in the band and leads them on a disastrous expedition to the South by Southwest festival in Texas.
Watching Frank strive for musical perfection is a bittersweet experience. His instinctive grasp of sound, and the innovative way in which he pursues it – literally any item can be used to complement a song – is a joy undermined by the deep physiological toll it clearly has on the man. The price of his unique perspective is his mental well-being, a price he pays when Jon herds him out of his comfort zone towards a more accessible and significantly blander sound.
A permanently masked Fassbender, even when in the shower, and a wonderfully misguided Gleeson don’t have to do it all alone. Maggie Gyllenhaal as the ultra-aggressive Clara and Scoot McNairy as the band’s mentally fragile manager pop up to add to an impressive cast. Underlined by Stephen Rennicks’ score that establishes the Soronprfbs’ as a convincingly good experimental band, Frank’s tragicomic travails make for fascinating viewing.
Lenny Abrahamson’s film may lose its way a little when the band turns up in Texas, and the overuse of Jon’s twitter account exposes it as little more than a gimmick, but Frank explores the fine line between genius and madness with sympathetic grace. It’s funny, it’s thoughtful and it sounds great. What more do you want?