Film Review: Frank


I have a confession to make. I’ve kept it close to my chest for a long time now, knowing that in Ireland it’s close to sacrilege. Here it is; I don’t really like Michael Fassbender. Please put down the pitchforks and hear me out. It’s not that I think he’s bad or untalented. In fact I think he’s more than capable as an actor, I just never saw the buzz around him. Yes Hunger is good but I found all his other performances either just solid or underwhelming. Or so I thought. Because now I have to admit that maybe it’s his face I have the problem with rather than his thespian abilities. In a film where he spends at least eighty percent of it in a fibreglass head I found myself enjoying his performance more than ever, no matter how bizarre he made it.

Frank is the story of an aspiring musician/songwriter who through pure chance finds himself as the keyboard player in an underground art-rock band. It’s the perfect escape from his office job and domesticated existence. However, the other members of the band are not quick to accept him, all except their masked, enigmatic lead singer Frank.
As an exploration of the creative process, its triumphs and shortcomings, this is a film that uses both pronounced humour and more gently probing devices. They aren’t always on the mark but thematically there are some really interesting questions. Jon’s constant use of social networks starts off looking like a gimmick but quickly evolves into an interesting plot device and a clever comment on what constitutes fame in this day and age.

Domhnall Gleeson is perfect as Jon, the wannabe who rather than being brainwashed over to the bands perspective seeks to harness and utilise their magic to his own ends. Jon isn’t a naive character; he’s a product of the commercialist takeover of the creative process. Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) on the other hand is his antithesis. She’s violent, creative and unbalanced. She’s more a force of nature than a real person, which is unfortunate as it leaves a talented actress with little more to do than look arty and scary. Fassbender plays the man caught between them, and with demons of his own, perfectly. He clearly cherishes the chance to push his performance all the way out there and finds a real balance between physical comedy and pathos in his character.

What doesn’t work so well is the choice of music. Of course the sloppy style of the band is a question of taste but considering the themes of the film there’s very little to get excited about. Maybe that was a purposeful choice but even the background music conveys very little and occasionally jars with what we’re seeing on screen. The same can be said of the intrusion of the SXSW festival, but it’s incorporated well enough into the trajectory of the plot that it does little to hamper it.

If Frank doesn’t offer the wide appeal or empathy of other Lenny Abrahamson films it’s only because of its essential story. The characters and that large head make it so some viewers will struggle to see past its quirky and humorous sheen but look a little deeper at this film about mental health and creativity, fame and integrity and there’s a lot to enjoy. A rough gem for sure but one I have no problem recommending.

Released May 9th 2014

Film Rating: 3.5

Image courtesy of The Guardian

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