Frank (2014) Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. With Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Anyone who’s ever been in a band, pained over writing a song or spent a decent amount of time around struggling musicians, is likely to identify with portions of Lenny Abrahamson’s touching, yet enjoyably droll drama film, Frank.
Besides the basic outline of the plot, this is a film that requires two set-ups. For starters, the character of Frank is a loose adaptation of Frank Sidebottom, a character played by English musician and comedian, Christopher Sievey, who achieved cult success in the late 80’s/early 90’s as an obscure TV personality. Full of optimistic energy, Sidebottom was all about impact. His surreal comic character never revealed his human face, preferring instead to don a huge papier-mâché head, reinforcing a blend of acute strangeness.
For his film, director Lenny Abrahamson uses the image of Frank Sidebottom to tell the story of a band, The Soronprfbs, as seen through the eyes of their new keyboard player, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson). The band is fronted by Frank (Michael Fassbender), an enigmatic, mysterious presence.
Like all the best films, this is something that demands a certain amount of understanding from its audience. It isn’t an out-and-out comedy, as some might expect. It is instead, a drama with bits of comedy in it, much of it dark and surreal. Not only is Abrahamson’s film a beautiful balance of comedy and drama, it also captures that sense of bottled genius, bursting to get out. Gleeson’s character, a man of limited musical talent, seems happy to just get close to that genius, yet his relative ‘sanity’ and mainstream sensibilities, often put him at odds with the rest of the band, particularly Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara, whose own chimeric character provides stability through instability.
This is very much a film about the fragility of flawed genius. But it’s also an obscure love story, amid a tale of friendship. It’s often beautiful and funny, and Michael Fassbender’s almost anonymous turn in the title role is memorable despite his face being hidden from view. 5/5