Frank Review

Posted: January 18, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

frank-2014-film-poster-one-sheetWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

When I first started seeing trailers for Frank, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. The central selling point was clearly Michael Fassbender wearing a big papier-mâché head. Outside of that, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It looked like the titular character was in a band, but all the music seemed not to be taken seriously. At the same time, the film looked to have a darker and strange tone, and I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a comedy or not either. I’m also aware that “Frank” is the character of British stand-up Chris Sievey, so I thought the film might be some sort of biopic, albeit an unconventional one. About the only thing I could conclude was that the film looked weird, which was enough to pique my interest and for me to give the film a go when it hit the home market.

As it turns out, the film is not a biopic, but it does take some loose inspiration from various band members who’ve played with Frank in the past. The film opens with Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a young musician living in Ireland with his parents. One day, Gleeson stumbles across local indie band the Soronprfbs as their keyboard player is trying to drown himself. Jon reveals he can play keyboard to band member Don (Scoot McNairy) who invites Jon to play join for their gig that night. It is there that Jon meets the band’s eccentric lead singer, Frank (Michael Fassbender), who always wears a papier-mâché head. Frank takes a liking to Jon, and invites him to join the band for the recording of their album in a secluded log cabin, much to the chagrin of Frank’s volatile girlfriend, Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

The tonal confusion I got from the trailer does come through in the film itself. The opening scene sees Jon walking down the street singing songs in his head about the people he passes. It’s a funny scene with a deliberate comedic edge, but the film’s tone remains very muted and subdued, to the point where it’s hard to call this a comedy. The film does have some pretty strong comedic moments mind you, particularly from frank himself, whose eccentric personality and unorthodox appearance lead to some strong bits, such as a scene where Frank performs his “most likable song ever”. In fact Michael Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhaal, in addition to both being great, do provide some pretty solid laughs here. Still, these bits are generally not the focus and are exceptional scenes rather than the norm. Most of the film is less of a comedy and more an observation of these his weird band with some funny parts sprinkled in.

Much of the film feels rather aimless, but some pretty direct themes start to emerge in the film’s third act. Director Lenny Abrahamson seems particularly interested in the idea of the artist needing to be motivated by some traumatic event or challenging past. Frank refutes this, arguing that art does not come from external forces, but internal ones. Simply put, you either have the gift, or you don’t. It’s an interesting perspective but it is somewhat undercut by the fact that the Soronprfbs don’t seem very good at all. The film presents Frank not as a musical prodigy, but more as an eccentric who gets by on image and personality rather than skill. It is weird that the character would be designed that way if the point of the film was exposing Jon’s lack of true musical flair by comparison to Frank.

The third act has a bigger problem though and that’s the bizarre tonal shift. Mo of Frank is a weird little indies with some comedic  overtones, but the end goes for a full on drama about Frank’s mental condition, which is odd given how Frank has been portrayed for 90% of the movie. It’s an interesting idea which could have worked, but the transition is too jarring to get behind. It’s unfortunate too because there is some good material here and Fassbender really shines in these moments, bt they feel too disparate from the rest of the film to really get behind.

I’m not quite sure what to make of Frank. The film has some interesting ideas, some strong scenes, and a pair of great performances from Fassbender and Gyllenhaal. But the film also has little control over its tone and it’s never able to take all of its idea and gel them together naturally. Frank certainly has a unique flavour, if nothing else, and it did keep my interest more or less. I’ve got too many reservations to really champion, but this is a decent little film that’s worth a look.

C+

Comments
  1. Dan O. says:

    The movie felt like it loved itself a bit too much for me to even try and get to like it nearly as much. Good review Dan.

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