This is a strange one. A film where Michael Fassbender wears a paper-mache head and is a member of an offbeat music group has to be a strange one but the level of strangeness needs to be seen. The trailers make it out to be this quirky dark comedy but underneath there are very serious themes about mental illness and artistic integrity to be seen. Thankfully, all of these elements work making Frank a brilliant, unique film.
The plot of the film concerns Jon Burroughs, a struggling musician who, due to being at the right place at the right time, becomes a member of an offbeat band with a name that’s unpronounceable and I won’t even try to spell here, the center of which being Frank, a person who constantly wears a paper-mache head. The band spend 11 months making their album and during this time, Jon has been blogging about the band and posting videos of Frank on YouTube which has gained the band a small following with organisers at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas giving the band a slot to perform but leads to problems developing in the band. One of the key themes the film presents is that of artistic integrity over mainstream popularity. Jon wants to see the band become big and tries to make them more likable to fit his own dreams of stardom, in many ways living his dreams through the band. The rest of the band though don’t really care if people go to see them or not, they just want to express themselves. Within this also comes the theme of exploitation. Throughout the film, there’s the worry over whether or not the people who are watching Jon’s videos want to listen to the music or are just laughing at Frank. You can argue that Jon is exploiting a mentally unstable person in order for him to gain popularity but Frank is also a creative genius, able to create songs from thin air based on random items, whilst at the start of the film, we see Jon struggling to think of a line for a song. This brings in the element of the outsider. Whilst the band are outsiders they also fully understand each other and are able to work with each other incredibly well whilst Jon wants the band to be more mainstream, making him the outsider in the outsiders. This is best exemplified through the interactions with Frank. The other members of the band do not really care if they see Frank without the head and accept it as part of him whilst Jon is always trying to see under the head indicating that Jon doesn’t really care about Frank, along with the fact that it’s about 20 minutes in before Frank and Jon speak to each other. Then there’s the big issue of the film, mental illness. From the start, it is clear that Frank is mentally ill and, along with Don (another member of the band) spent time in a psychiatric hospital and over the course of the film, the problems relating to his illness get worse and worse and by the time you realise what is happening, it’s too late. This leads into the tone of the film with the first 2 acts having a more quirky tone but once the band gets to Austin, there’s a more melancholic tone and really starts to explore Frank as a character and the relationship he has with the band members, in particular Jon. There’s also the fact that this film could only take place now due to the extensive use of Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube with the rise in the bands popularity seen through Jon having 18 Twitter followers at the start of the film and 18,000 at the end, along with the last 10 minutes of the film being entirely dependent on communication via Twitter. All of these elements make Frank one of the best written films over the past few years.
With the cast, Domhnall Gleeson does a really good job as Jon, showing his frustration with his career, along with showing that Jon, despite all of his dreams of mainstream popularity, isn’t that talented and really gets across his curiosity for Frank. Maggie Gyllenhaal is great as Clara, the theremin player for the band (which automatically shows a great performance as all the actors in the band played their own instruments and the theremin is notoriously hard to play) showing a great deal of contempt for the mainstream style of Jon, indicating that Jon doesn’t understand the artistry in the band, whilst also showing concern that the attention that Frank is receiving is not good for him. Scoot McNairy does a good job as Don, showing a great deal of respect for Frank but also the deep psychological issues that he has that have created suicidal thoughts in him. The standout performance though is Michael Fassbender as Frank. First thing to say though, the character of Frank is not Frank Sidebottom, the creation of Chris Sievey, but the film is inspired by him, mainly through the involvement of Jon Ronson with the script, with Ronson using his experience as a member of Sidebottom’s band as inspiration for the film. This is a very difficult role to pull off seeing as Fassbender spends the film with a paper-mache head on meaning that he has no facial expressions. Thankfully, Fassbender has an incredible physical presence and through this is able to fully convey everything that Frank is feeling, along with the psychological issues that he has and I think that this is the best performance that Fassbender has given in his career.
Overall, Frank is an excellent film. The quirky dark comedy in the first 2 acts helps to create the right frame of mind for the gradual change into the more melancholic elements at the end, the plot and script are excellent, the music is brilliant and the decision to have all the music performed live works wonders for showing the offbeat nature of the band and the performances by all involved, especially Fassbender, are incredible. This is a film that cannot be missed.
My Rating: 5/5