Tuesday, March 25, 2014



Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Written by Jon Ronson & Peter Straughan

     The creative process is a difficult challenge even for the most talented of artists, but selling out for the sake of popularity and greed is the highest contradiction to the purity and joy of being truly groundbreaking. Add mental illness into the growth and creative prowess and it even exemplifies the strength, honesty and impressiveness of true artistry. Now, have that main creative genius wear, hide, behind a very large paper mache head with enormous eyes and a blank, expressionless face, and you  have a film that is rich in the debate over creativity versus popularity, and the struggles faced with mental disability. This is a layered and quite witty, hilarious off beat black comedy. That is Lenny Abrahamson's Frank. A not-so perfect film, that has a few bumps in the road, but one that is full of deeper meanings and brilliantly funny moments.
     Frank starts out hilariously, based on an avant garde band that is led by a uniquely talented, faked headed lead singer named Frank (Michael Fassbender). Throughout the first act it really works, dives into a bit of a hole through most of the second, but comes back with a satisfying conclusion. The real brilliance and beauty in the film is shown in two themes. First, being the struggle for creative freedom and purity, and the interference of a new member to the band that wants to help the band succeed on the popular front. This is focused on "making it big" instead of making music that is different, challenging and something new and unique. Second, the personal dilemma and tribulations of coping with mental illness, and trying to be creative and special.
     Frank begins with the social media obsessed, untalented and shy Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), who just happens to be in the right spot at the right time. The band "Soronprfbs" have just lost their keyboardist, who attempts suicide. Jon, sitting on a bench watching this event occur, begins a conversation with the bands down-and-out manager Don (Scoot McNairy). After a weak interview, he lands the job of being the bands new keyboardist, but at the heavy reluctance of all the band members, with the exception of the mysterious lead singer Frank. Frank never takes his mask off. It is his safe zone and keeps him leveled. This is a unique situation for Jon and one that the young man does not have the talent to handle, but he wants to express himself musically.
     The band is getting ready to record an album, and when Jon believes he is going away to help the band for one weekend, he ends up going to a reclusive location in Ireland to record for over a year. Frank is a somewhat mythical creature to all in the band. Extremely funny situations ensue and the band hangs on every word their enigmatic lead singer delivers. They are highly reluctant of his kindness and admiration towards the truly average Jon, but it shows his friendliness and naiveté. The theremin playing Clara (an awesomely dark Maggie Gyllenhaal) is highly unhappy with Jon's involvement and she sees his willingness to sell out. While the band attempts to create something fresh, new and innovative, Jon begins to post on You Tube recordings and videos of the band practicing and creating music. Unbeknownst to the rest of the band, the "Soronprfbs" begin to have a cult-like following, which is not what they want, with the exception of Jon. He eventually talks them into traveling to Austin, Texas for the SXSW Music Fest and the band begins to fall apart.
     The trip to Austin really is the downfall of the film. It begins to feel forced and unnatural, and that might of been the purpose of director Lenny Abrahamson and writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, but it did not completely work for me. This whole part of the story in Austin felt very unusual and mixed, but the film really shines everywhere else. The banter and situational dark humor between Jon and the rest of the band is spot on. The enigma that is Frank is something magical and stunning. An innovative man, who is stuck within his head, inside of a larger fake head that allows him to act with some normality, is quite quirky and fascinating. He suffers from a mental disability, but the struggle of the band coming into some social media prominence breaks him, dishearteningly, out of his shell, a little bit. It is also brilliant how the untalented Jon tries to sell this unique group of misfits to the larger public and it blows up in his, and their faces. He brings down a band and it really speaks to how true artistry can not be forced, on the person, group or public. It should come out naturally and without hindrance.
     The writing is witty, hilarious and great, with the exception of the unfocused trip to Austin. The film is loosely based on real-life cult comedian-musician Christopher Mark Sievey, who's persona Frank Sidebottom, wore a massive fake head. The ending is quite touching and the amazing work from Fassbender continues to show what a wonderfully talented actor, and singer, he is. Fassbender is underneath that large head throughout the majority of the film and delivers an absolutely brilliant, nuanced performance. He is simply fantastic and gives so much humor, heart and a thorough dynamic to Frank. Gleeson also gives a wonderful, self-effacing performance as Jon. He fully comes to understanding the shy attempt at making the band popular as led to its downfall and the reality of his abilities. It comes through brilliantly for all in the final scene.
     Frank is a film that grew on me after my initial viewing. I really enjoyed the film, but felt that Austin trip was flat and somewhat boring. The more I chewed on it the more respected it . It is quite funny, nuanced and fully layered, with its focus mental illness and the creative spirit. Frank has some wonderful performances from everyone, especially the immensely dynamic Michael Fassbender. To bring that much life, hurt and depth through wearing a mask all the time is astonishing.The humor flows naturally and really adds an intelligent depth to this black comedy. I enjoy a good comedy that has a lot more than just cheap laughs. Frank is not a home run, but it is a film that is quite pleasing and enjoyable.

Photo credit by the hollywoodreporter.com.

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