– by David Morgan-Brown
If you’ve seen any of the promotion for this film, you may’ve already seen the big Frank head, originally belonging to Chris Sievey’s comedic alter-ego Frank Sidebottom. However, that mask itself is perhaps the only resemblance this film has to his life, as this is about the ridiculousness of creativity and how it stems from the oddest of emotional areas (or maybe it’s more similar than I thought).
The story in Frank is quite original, yet strange, so bear with me: after Jon joins a band called Soronprfbs as its keyboardist (after their previous one had a mental breakdown and almost drowned), they venture deep into a cheap cabin in the woods of Ireland to rehearse and record for their next studio album (which takes a year and a half), going through various musical styles and music-making techniques – and they’re all guided by lead singer, Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a large paper-mâché head over the top of his own, all of the time. Whether based on that information you’d say this is a comedy or a drama, you’d be right. Frank is that peculiar sort of comedy-drama that the British and Irish usually do so well.
Although not screamingly hilarious, it has a wry sense of humour that manages to fit in with any scenario in the film, no matter how dramatic or ridiculous. It’s in the film’s strength that it’s also able to do this whilst addressing this tale of creativity spurned from mental illness. There’s a gentleness to this film that doesn’t stop it from entering dark and controversial territories.
Domhall Gleeson gives something of a breakthrough performance as Jon, managing to handle the weight of the film’s intriguing emotion – Gleeson previously only had a few small roles in some well-known films (you may’ve caught him in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2, Dredd, True Grit), but his role here in this small film feels like the first of many great performances from him. Maggie Gyllenhall is also excellent as the sharp, stoic, and misanthropic theremin-player Clara, revisiting her earlier and darker roles of her career like those in Donnie Darko and Secretary. And there’s Fassbender as the title character, whose performance is obscured by the large mask over his head. Because he’s a fantastic actor, Fassbender doesn’t need to state his facial expressions constantly (like his character tries to do in the film), nor does he need to compensate somehow by projecting his expressions through his body alone – he cooperates with the mask, making his performance often strangely ambiguous and this certainly adds to the film’s already weird vibe.
As good as Frank feels, there’s also the nagging feeling that it could’ve been better. Ultimately, the film is sure to satisfy just about any of its audience members without having to compromise, although it does feel light on its tricky subject material. This unique and original story doesn’t allow those themes to open up and broaden enough, so in the end it doesn’t feel like much has been examined on mental illness or its involvement with creativity and art. Although it’s good, not great, Frank is really unlike any other film I’ve seen, let alone any other film currently showing. For something that’s going to provoke parts of the brain other films won’t, the wild life of Frank and his band Soronprfbs is something to be seen to be believed.