Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Written by Jon Ronson & Peter Straughan
Sometimes all you need to see is a still from a movie and you know it’s worth watching. That’s how I felt about Frank—the imagery looked so unique that I knew I’d have to give it a shot. I mean come on, Michael Fassbender running around in a papier-mâché head making off-kilter electronic music? Say no more, I’m there.
Funny enough, the concept is not actually unique to the film. The giant mask frontman character is actually based off musician and comedian Chris Sievey, aka Frank Sidebottom, cult hero of 1980s Britain. Frank Sidebottom’s weird brand of humor seems to have inspired many—there’ evens a statue of him in his hometown of Timperley– not to mention the film’s co-writer, Jon Ronson, who was part of Sidebottom’s band for a time.
The plot of Frank revolves around Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) a frustrated songwriter wannabe who finds himself sucked into the strange and intense world of Frank (Michael Fassbender) and his eccentric band with the unpronounceable name of “Soronprfbs.” The movie plays around with its own narration by reading out Jon’s many Tweets, Tumbl’s and various DMs throughout his stay with the band, as they travel from the UK to Ireland to Texas. While he’s enamored with the idea of being in a band, the reality of the lifestyle starts to grate on Jon—while he truly believes in Frank as a musician, the frontman’s lack of drive and direction begins to conflict directly with Jon’s desperate desire for fame.
I enjoyed Frank a lot! It’s charming and interesting throughout, and it’s easy to understand the appeal of such a bizarre group of people. It’s also a lot funnier than I expected; the humor is somewhere in between the Coen brothers and Graham Linehan. However, I found the movie sort of middling in the emotional department– I’d say it skews more towards a flat out comedy than an indie-drama. Frank deals with some pretty heavy issues—such as mental illness and depression—but the humor always stays pretty light, sometimes unusually so. It switches so much between comedy and seriousness that the dramatic scenes are kind of undercut by the viewer wondering when the next joke is about to drop. That said, it definitely made me laugh out loud a handful of times, so I’m not exactly complaining.
I also really enjoyed the music—it’s exactly what you’d expect out of a band called Soronprfbs fronted by a guy in a papier-mâché head. In fact, I’d go as far as to say the music achieved that perfect balance between funny and emotional that the movie itself just missed. The songs are original enough that you believe Frank is genuinely talented, but they’re also funny enough that they feel self aware. Composer Stephen Rennicks really nailed that sort of Daniel Johnston outsider music sound—somewhere between straightforward and discordant, but so earnest that you can’t help but see the appeal. Also impressive is that the actors are all really playing the music—I like those sorts of details.
What I really enjoyed most of all was the message—the theme of those without talent who want fame, versus those with talent who lack the desire for the recognition they deserve. Here you have Jon, somebody who desperately wants to achieve something real, yet he can’t ever seem to embrace the reality of his own life—he spends all of his time tweeting about his life instead of ever living it. On the other hand, you have Frank—somebody who, along with other issues, is so entirely attuned to living in the moment he can’t manage to plan his week, let alone his path as an artist. Jon spends the entire film trying to figure out what exactly makes Frank and the rest of the band tick, but finds that talent is a bit like magic—it holds up when it’s enjoyed, not when it’s dissected.
It’s hard not to notice the generationally-driven digs at social media culture, and I can’t say I disagree with it really. Frank shines a real spotlight on the hollowness of social posturing—if you spend all of your time inflating reality, you can’t expect to experience anything but your own hot air. But I think the actual point of the movie is much broader—Frank is, like I said, about those with talent and those without, but also about the fact that there’s really only so much you can be taught before you hit your limit. Sorry, but no, you won’t ‘be as good as Michelangelo’ if you ‘just had more time to practice.’ The film has a lot to say about how true talents develops, and what actually makes it grow.
All in all, it’s a fun and charming movie with some catchy, manic tunes. Go see Frank. Smiles broadly, two thumbs up. (I’m referencing the movie, go see it.)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars.