Sometimes creative people can be a bit crazy. Or perhaps crazy people just have a leg up on being pretty creative. Frank has plenty of both going on, as the film, chronicling the adventures of a mysterious musician, goes through a whirlwind of bizarre comic situations and deeply emotional moments.
At worst, it can feel like you’re going a bit loopy yourself, what with all the ups and downs. But far more often, Frank feels like a genuinely creative being, brimming with out-of-the-norm humor and moments of emotional truth, strange as they may be.
Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young, struggling songwriter looking for his moment of inspiration to help make his music not quite so terrible. After a chance encounter, Jon gets the opportunity to substitute on keyboards for a show with a traveling avant-garde band, The Soronprfbs (don’t worry, not even they know how to pronounce it). There, he makes an impression on Frank (Michael Fassbender), the musical genius behind the group who wears a giant fake head at all times, and is invited to participate in the group’s insane writing process. All the while, Jon’s chronicling of the band on social media stirs up tension among his fellow members, especially the hate-filled theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), culminating in a trip to Texas where everything unravels.
Anyone who has even vaguely heard of Frank should know by now that Michael Fassbender’s performance wearing the giant head is the eye-catching aspect of the pic and deservedly so. If it’s not clear yet that Fassbender is one of the most magnetic (yes, pun intended), versatile actors around, then a) what’s wrong with you and b) this movie is the latest proof. It doesn’t matter that he’s wearing five pounds of paper mache on his head; the guy projects oodles of nuance into a character that could be just a one-note joke.
But there’s so much more to Frank than just a movie about a guy with a funny head. Director Lenny Abrahamson’s dramedy touches upon themes like the toll of being truly creative, artists’ relationship with fame and social media and bending to the expectations of others. It’s a movie with subtle but thoughtful messages and sweet, sometimes heartbreaking moments.
The danger with Frank was that it could become another precious, hollow indie flick. However, the film’s genuine emotional core proves it’s certainly not hollow, while the humor of the flick shows it’s anything but precious. Frank’s overall sweetness and naiveté results in some unforgettable gags (announcing his facial expressions and the creation of his “most likable song ever”) but it also sets you up to not expect all the considerably darker, more messed up stuff that comes from his band mates.
There’s a consistently funny effect in going back and forth between the big headed band leader finding inspiration in everything to a sudden stabbing or the depressed band manager’s trouble with mannequins. The music itself can also be quite good despite being, ya know… out there.
Though the effect of it is understood, the tone of the film can be manic. Slack pacing in the beginning is something of a chore, as is having patience with the somewhat self-righteous Jon, but it ultimately helps once we dive headlong into Frank’s weird world and start pogoing between silly neuroticism and unfortunate happenings.
Frank is nothing if not unique. Its strange subject matter doesn’t leave many mysteries for why it isn’t playing in many locations, but it’s well worth the effort to find. Everyone should be able to find enjoyment from a wacky musician with an oversized head. However, if you’ve ever felt like you’re going to mind-splitting extremes to get your creative juices flowing, whatever your craft may be, or changing your behavior so your anonymous Twitter followers are satisfied, Frank should hit a deeper chord than just “funny head-guy movie.”
Frank is now available on iTunes and Video On Demand services, and is currently playing at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis.