Frank is full blown indie quirk. That heightened sensibility is often insufferable to sit through, but what makes potentially grating quirks work is what director Lenny Abrahamson and screenwriters Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan say with each of the film’s eccentricities. While certain oddities may appear fun and harmless at the start, they turn into real pain by the end.
Our eyes and ears in Frank is Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a young musician who may not have the talent to make a career out of it. He dreams of making it big, so when he’s asked to play the keyboard for the band Soronprfbs, he jumps at the chance. No money is involved, just the chance to play music with a group Jon thinks could be the next big thing. The problem is, Soronprbs is made up of a group of unreliable hipsters, led by the charming, kind, and likable Frank (Michael Fassbender), who happens to wear a big paper mache head, which he never takes off. The other members of the band, besides Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), aren’t given much personalities, beyond their annoyance of Jon.
Make no mistake, Jon is an annoying character. He’s self-involved and the unknowing villain of the movie. Clara can sense this, but the two redundant band members treat him poorly only because it would make for a decent ongoing joke. It’s strange to see somewhat of a mean-spirited gag in a movie that shows nothing but empathy for Frank and Clara, two characters with their own serious issues and cause more problems than Jon, and yet Jon is quickly positioned as the bad guy. Clara’s trouble-raising is portrayed as comedic, while Jon’s is shown in a less flattering light.
This doesn’t undercut the film’s positive spirit too much, but the contradiction is a bothersome afterthought. Besides that, Abrahamson’s Frank is as enjoyable as its lead singer. Fassbender probably gives one of the best performances that’s ever been given under a paper mache head. He’s a joy to watch, which gives the film’s final minutes a heavier punch. It’s a perfect ending, backed by a strangely beautiful song.
That last scene is what elevates Frank. The eccentricities become clearer in the film’s downward spiral. Frank wears that paper mache head for a reason. It may be funny and strange, but it’s revealed as a painful character trait. What starts off as an idiosyncratic story of a group of misfits ends as a bittersweet tale of some people who, no matter how talented they may be, do not need or want a spotlight.
The film doesn’t take too big of a turn towards the worse in the third act. Frank retains its sense of humor, never losing sight of its oddness, which the movie even has a sense of humor about. In one scene Scoot McNairy, playing the band’s manager, says, “You just have to go with it,” referring to Frank’s head. If you go with Frank, you’ll be rewarded.
The Upside: Beautiful ending; Michael Fassbender is fantastic; genuinely good music; improves on repeat viewings
The Downside: The movie is a little too quick to point fingers at Jon; the side band members rarely register as real people
On The Side: The character Frank was inspired by Chris Sievey’s comedian and punk rock singer Frank Sidebottom.
Editor’s Note: We originally ran this review for SXSW and re-run it now as Frank is in NYC theaters. It expands next weekend.