Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Frank

****
To quote the film itself, “How to describe Frank?” Well in a nutshell, Frank is about a guy who unceasingly wears a big papier-mâché head. Needless to say, this will not be to everyone’s taste.

Frank (Michael Fassbender) is the lead singer of Soronnprfbs. Aspiring songwriter Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) crosses paths with the band when they play his hometown. More specifically, when their keyboard player attempts to drown himself. Jon steps in to play keys at their next gig. His is then whisked away to rural Ireland to record the album. After enthusiastically promoting Soronnprfbs on social media, John secures a gig at SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

The film is dedicated to Chris Seivey, the man behind the mask of Frank Sidebottom, the frontman for The Freshies, an incomparable character who made countless appearances on British TV throughout the eighties and nineties. The story is inspired by screenwriter Jon Ronson’s actual experience of playing keys for Sidebottom’s band, after replacing Mark Radcliffe.

For the uninitiated, if you expect to find any details or explanation of Frank Sidebottom you won’t find them here. The entire Frank persona has been given a complete overhaul. There are, for example, no Northern colloquialisms since Frank, in this cinematic incarnation, hails from the USA. There is no mention of the name ‘Sidebottom’. The character is simply ‘Frank’. And thus, the film is a very peculiar concept. However, Frank Sidebottom himself was a very peculiar concept. So it’s actually a fitting tribute.

This is quite a change of tack for Lenny Abrahamson - following the darkness of What Richard Did - and testament to the Irish director’s versatility. This film is consistently funny, relentlessly weird and really rather unique. (And it does have a sprinkling of darkness.) Scoot McNairy adds to his already-very-interesting CV by playing Don, the band’s manager. Maggie Gyllenhall does a lot of scene-stealing as the band’s scary theremin player. Domhnall Gleeson’s performance is a masterstroke. This dull everyman, thrown into a very weird mix, is just as engaging as the lunatics that surround him. Which brings us to Michael Fassbender: a mercurial, recently-Oscar-nominated, and not-unattractive talent. Sticking a big papier-mâché head on him is quite possibly the last thing we’d expect. John Belushi – with The Blues Brothers back in 1980 – experienced some resistance to his eyes being hidden, for the entire film, behind dark glasses. That situation pales in comparison. But like Belushi, Fassbender smashes it out of the park and somehow delivers a very captivating performance.

Frank is peculiar, oddball and exceedingly leftfield. If you’re feeling open-minded and/or tired of a lack of cinematic originality, then look no further. 


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