Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
‘Frank’ is one of 2014’s best movies, a quirky clever comedy that deserves your attention. It follows Jon, a struggling musician living the stereotypical dull life, who gets given the choice to join an avant-garde pop band fronted by Frank, a singer who sports an oversized papier mache head. Jon stands in for the band’s keyboard player who tried to drown himself in the sea and then finds himself as a permanent member of the band known as The Soronprfbs as they record their album in a remote location.
The film is a fictional take on Jon Ronson’s source material, in which Ronson wrote about his time as a keyboard player in the Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band. Frank Sidebottom was a character created by the late Chris Sievey. Essentially his act was a mixture of comedy and singing, the type of thing you’d see at the end of a pier or in a working man’s club. As a boy I vaguely remember seeing Frank Sidebottom on Channel 4, and after watching ‘Frank’ a YouTube search for Frank Sidebottom produced a treasure trove of great clips, including this wonderfully bizarre performance. After you watch this movie it’s well worth seeking out the simple genius of Frank Sidebottom.
Every member of the band is blighted by their own demons. You have a surly French guitarist who looks like Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, a monosyllabic drummer and a Yoko figure who plays the Theremin. They are dead serious about one thing, and that thing is the music. The band members see Frank as a genius figure and follow him in order to unlock their own creative potential.
Domhnall Gleeson’s Jon is a surprisingly complex character. At the beginning of the film we see him trying to craft song lyrics from the mundane goings-on around him like a Mother pushing a pram and a woman who wears a blue coat. He’s shy, and his ambition isn’t entirely obvious. By the end of the film his head has inflated far beyond the size of Frank’s. Jon is engaged in Social Networking and tweets about his progress. The Twitter aspect of the film features prominently, particularly as Jon documents the band’s creative process and then organizes a showcase gig at SXSW. Surprisingly the hash tagging doesn’t get annoying.
The Frank in ‘Frank’ only carries certain similarities with Frank Sidebottom, obviously the papier mache head and the happy disposition, but this is checked by an internal strife which comes to the fore in the final third of the film. Michael Fassbender is able to convey a whole host of emotion from subtle changes in his body language. This is all the more amazing considering he is wearing a giant papier mache head with a fixed facial expression.
‘Frank’ is also a lesson about indie cultdom and web buzz in the Social Networking age, a time when a band can get famous and talked about for many reasons other than music. In the case of Frank’s band, when they arrive to play in Texas, inner band tension, which had been bubbling away since Jon joined the band, boils over in a darkly comic fashion. As the story plays out over social media, thousands of people begin to pay attention.
What is this film – is it a coming-of-age tale? a movie about fame and forture? a question about the origins of creativity? It’s original, that’s for sure, with many twists and turns and a host of laugh out loud moments, which at times don’t feel intentional. I suppose the only dampener might be the final third of the film, which is bleak on multiple levels. But the finish feels remarkably real and really hits you in the ticker.