Director Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is a delightfully weird, but melancholy film about a man who wears a giant fake head and makes strange pop music. The dark comedy will make you laugh and by the end, may make you cry.
Although the film is called Frank, the main character of the piece is really Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a corporate drone and aspiring musician who chances upon the band Soronprfbs led by the mysterious, but brilliant, Frank (Michael Fassbender), a singer/songwriter/performance artist who wears a giant papier-mâché head throughout the course of the film. Jon is invited to play keyboards for the band and embarks on a journey of self-discovery while recording and posting the band’s album progress on YouTube. They develop a small following and get invited to play the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival. A conflict develops between Jon and Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) for not only the band’s identity, but Frank’s soul. It all sounds pretty heavy, and there are definitely some weightier moments, but ultimately, the film is a comedy and it certainly made me laugh throughout.
Though Frank is a fictional story, it is based on the writings of Jon Ronson about artist Frank Sidebottom, from whom much of the inspiration for Frank is derived. Ronson, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Straughan, played keyboards in Sidebottom’s band in the late 80s, so there is a direct parallel between Jon in the movie and Jon in real life. Sidebottom was really comedian and musician Chris Sievey, who sadly passed away before the film could be made, but gave his blessing to the endeavor.
The film is a dark comedy through and through with several serious moments that are then made light of by the bizarre characters. At the center of the maelstrom is Frank, who is something of an enigma, but what can you expect from a character that never shows his true face? Fassbender is great in the role, possessing a manic energy that powers the entire film. Frank is a fascinating character, made more so by Fassbender’s performance. He gives his all and the audience can feel that, even though his face is obscured the whole film. The way he plays the final scene is heartbreaking, but in the end, hopeful.
The rest of the cast is just as great. Gleeson is becoming one of my favorite actors having now seen him a few features. He’s a likable guy in this one and it’s interesting to watch him subtly change throughout. Gyllenhaal is super strange as Clara. She’s clearly in love with Frank, but there are obviously a few obstacles with that. Her hostility toward Jon as an outsider to the group creates an interesting dynamic as well. Scoot McNairy, another one of my favorites, does great work as Don, the band’s troubled manager. But of course, the star here is Fassbender, who shows another side to his talents with this heartfelt and very funny performance.
Overall, Frank is a weird, wonderful picture. Though Frank’s music is very strange, it’s catchy in a way. There are definitely some serious matters covered here, mental illness being the chief one, but Frank is just such a fun character, he makes the tough stuff go down easier.
Frank is in theaters now and available on iTunes.