He was the enigma of the north, a musical maestro hidden by a big paper Mache you could go as far as saying he sounded like George Formby on Acid. Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank (2013) may think this looks like a biopic for Timperley’s favourite son Frank Sidebottom, but it’s merely a look at modern day hyperbole that surrounds bands and things can go maniac when you lose control.
In Frank we meet Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) a young wannabe musician who tweets about his obsession to become a successful artist but is plagued with no originality. Out of the blue Jon is plucked out of obscurity when he witnesses the keyboard player of the obscure Avant Garde band Sofonprfbs lead by the mysterious Frank (Michael Fassbender) who wears a giant paper Mache head attempts to drown himself. When they find out Jon plays keyboards they invite him to play at the band’s local concert which leads to them inviting him also to join them in Ireland at their music workshops and the band’s new album. Over time Jon becomes consumed by Frank he follows them and behind the band’s back shares the progress of the album via twitter and Youtube a coverage that lands the band a slot at the celebrated SXSW Festival. Whilst his actions when commendable it does open a new can of worms with Jon becoming a target for abuse from the other band members especially Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) whilst Frank’s mental health deteriorates in the background.
Saying Frank is nothing to do with the legend that’s Frank Sidebottom (aka Chris Sievey) is not entirely true as it’s inspired by him but largely thanks to Jon Ronson who was his keyboard player. Whilst Sievey’s master creation is purely on a inspirational level and at no time does the director do a disservice to Sidebottom but uses it to springboard the eccentric off kilter nature that deep down is an talent. To really appreciate the talent on show you may have to be as mad as as the lead character of the film. You could also say Captain Beefheart rubs off some inspiration in the method of madness especially the Trout Mask Replica album which the the band went off to a retreat for many months like the Sofonprbs in this film. It’s here Jon gets a true look at the process of creating music and though he tries to connect with the kids in the way they do these days (social media) but as you watch Frank is not interested in fame just musical creativity.
Frank takes Lenny Abrahamson back to his Adam &Joe (2004) days delivering a film that’s funny but also tragic and heartfelt. Tonally it’s a very off-kilter film delivered in a intelligent manner that transcends naturally into something thats funny one minute it’s so absurd the next scene you will be moved.
Having Michael Fassbender behind the mask might annoy some with him been one of Hollywood’s current leading stars, most of all a genius move. It showcases why Fassbender’s acting ability has so much depth and diversity that you can hide someone with great ability behind a mask in a film which he may not take his mask off you never really question is it really him behind that paper Mache? He’s a fantastic character actor who can deliver such wit and panache with that mask he can express emotions convincingly without actually seeing them. If Jon is the Sofonprbs voice to the world Maggie Gyllenhaal‘s Clara is his opposite, she wants to defend the bands independence from mainstream bureaucracy. She forms a form of hatred for Jon which is venomous and frissonous finding anything but incompetent. Domhnall Gleeson delivers a safe, confident, multi-layered performance which is sincere, passionate showered in Naivete Frank sees it as a gift. At times things frustrate Jon he starts to feel used before narcissism kicks in when the dream starts to slip from his grasp.
The question is many of you will ask do we see Frank without his big head? You’ll just have to watch the films, but give an idea when it comes to showering his head is still on! Frank is a genius but also the purveyor of his own madness which questions the issue of Mental Health. He’s fragile and weak. Under every mask there maybe a person of true talent but is also fighting many personal demons like Frank. This is a tragic comedy with plenty of wit, intelligence, a profound, melancholic statement it’s just a shame when the film was in the cinema it wasn’t enjoyed by many cinephiles. No excuse now, describe your feeling ‘Happy, buy me!’
Comedy, Drama, Indie | Ireland, 2013 | 15 | Blu-Ray, DVD | 15th September 2014 (2014) | Curzon Film World | Dir: Lenny Abrahamson | Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy |Buy:Frank [DVD] or Frank [Blu-ray]