Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Jon Burroughs is a novice songwriter/musician floundering in a dead-end office job. However, after witnessing a suicide attempt, Jon serendipitously finds himself the new keyboardist of the Soronprfbs, an eccentric rock band led by Frank, an enigmatic frontman who dons a giant, papier-mache head. But as Jon quickly discovers, not all is right with his new bandmates, and while passionate about music, Jon slowly realizes that perhaps he’s overestimated his actual talents as a musician.
Originality in cinema has become a rare commodity, as every year I feel like I have to scour a little harder to track down films that offer a fresh and creative experience. So when I heard of a comedy about a capricious band whose mysterious lead singer never takes off his giant fake head, even while showering, I must admit to being slightly intrigued, for that’s a story I’d never seen before. Loosely based on the late British comedian Chris Sievey’s character, Frank Sidebottom, Frank is the fourth feature film of Dublin-born filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson. Experienced as a director of television commercials in Ireland and the U.K., Abrahamson made his feature debut back in 2004 with indie dramedy, Adam & Paul. Since that time, Abrahamson’s reputation among Irish filmmakers has steadily climbed, thanks to a pair of moderately successful independent creations, Garage (2007) and What Richard Did (2012).
Written by the author (Jon Ronson) and the screenwriter (Peter Staughan) of The Men Who Stare at Goats, Frank is blessed with an impressive cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Domhnall Gleeson, and Scoot McNairy. Gleeson, son of Irish acting star Brendan Gleeson, plays the film’s protagonist, Jon, a wide-eyed optimist whose naive belief in his musical abilities blinds him to the fact that he isn’t very gifted. Ignoring the fact that he just witnessed the previous keyboardist’s mental breakdown, Jon heedlessly joins this group of musicians, thinking this is the big break he’s been waiting for. Embracing the ego-stroking gratification that comes from social media, Jon begins tweeting, blogging, and posting videos of his new experiences with this cadre of nonconformist oddballs. Only later do we find out his bandmates are unaware of his online shenanigans—and are not too pleased to have their creative processes shared with the outside world.
The drawing attraction of Frank is the stupefying, far-out portrayal of the band’s lead singer, fearlessly delivered by Michael Fassbender. Ever since his transformative performance as the infamous Irish hunger striker, Bobby Sands, in Steve McQueen’s startling directorial debut, Hunger, Fassbender has become one of the most diversely gifted actors in Hollywood, highlighted by his menacing Oscar-nominated performance in last year’s Best Picture winner, 12 Years a Slave. Like a carny show from the 1920’s, Fassbender’s performance is a hypnotic portrait that, no matter how bizarre, you just can’t look away from. Poking fun at the stereotypical, rock-god conventions, Frank is an idiosyncratic artist whose unconventional outlook on life and music has turned him into a type of cult figure for his bandmates.
Exploring the fickle nature of the music industry during this age of YouTube and social media, Frank also pokes fun at the avant-garde music scene, playfully lampooning the “seriousness” required to make true art. The film’s most amusing moments involve a Spinal Tap-esque parody of the band going off into isolation to construct their innovative new sound. Unfortunately, the film’s laughs are too far and between, instead replaced with a bevy of perplexing, cringe-worthy moments that more often then not left me scratching my head. I love Abrahamson’s valiant attempt at creating a film of uncompromising originality. As many of my close friends know, I’m quite the connoisseur of quirky cinema, but I must humbly concede that Frank is too outlandishly peculiar even for me.-JL