Plot: Loosely based on comedy character Frank Sidebottom (whom I am not familiar with), Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank tells the story of an American avant-garde band, whose front-man (Michael Fassbender) wears a giant fake head. He never takes it off and no one knows what he really looks like. When the band’s keyboardist
dies in a bizarre gardening accident attempts to
drown himself in the ocean, they recruit wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall
Gleeson) and retreat to Ireland to record their new album.
Review: My first reaction after seeing Frank was slight disappointment. It was not what I expected. It is a much darker and pessimistic tale than anticipated, containing big ideas, which need to be digested. One of my initial problems with the film was that its main character is essentially an awful person. Maybe it’s because he is played by Domhnall Gleeson who seems to be such a nice bloke, but for some reason I felt like I should like him. I was wrong. He is very much the villain of the piece and on top of that he is annoying. Constantly seeking attention, desperate to be recognized for an artistic talent he clearly doesn’t have; he is the kind of person who tweets the hashtag #nomnomnom. Once I realised this, I was able to think about the film differently.
Being creative is not easy for most of us. Jon is desperate to be creative, but he simply isn’t. Sometimes ambition and even hard work are simply not enough. The most interesting thing about Frank is this interesting observation on what it means to be creative. It is not necessarily all about recognition. Frank is a natural talent, able to write a song on the spot. Yet he does not seek the spotlight, he won’t even reveal his face to his most intimate friends. An absolute perfectionist, he will tinker with his work until it feels right, even if it takes months. The idea of being liked intrigues him, but he is also frightened and it holds him back. Jon’s prime objective on the other hand is to share his music. It’s not about money or even fame, it’s about respect. He is selfish and basks in Frank’s talent to compensate for his own ineptitude. The film does very well to pitch these two characters together and eventually against each other, building an interesting relationship. Between them stands Clara (Maggie Gyllenhall), an intimidating woman who is protective of Frank’s fragility.
Frank is nevertheless a flawed picture. Much like the avant-garde music Frank and his band create, the film doesn’t really have any rhythm or structure. In other terms, like the music, Frank has a rhythm that takes getting used to and will rub some people the wrong way. As a result, it feels much longer than its modest 95 minute running time. It also seems that Lenny Abrahamson couldn’t quite decide whether he was making a comedy or not. There are some really funny moments, particularly in the first half, but they become increasingly rare as the film goes on and sometimes sit uncomfortably next to the more serious themes of mental illness and violence. The issue is not that this subject matter and humour are incompatible. The problem is that the film lacks the confidence to go for the gags, but feels the necessity to make them. Borrowing one of the best jokes from The Big Lebowski was not a great idea either, even though they do put a new spin on it.
Despite these issues, Frank is a worthwhile effort which stayed with me longer than most films. It isn’t really a comedy; it isn’t particularly moving; it is an intriguing exploration of what it means to be creative. The well-observed ending is the most sentimental moment and provides an earworm which I could not get rid of for days. Who knew the Micheal Fassbender had such a good singing voice?