Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Domhnall Gleeson
Running time: 95 min
Plot: Hopeless songwriter Jon (Gleeson) quits his office job to become the newest member of an eccentric band led by the big headed Frank (Fassbender, wearing a massive fake head that puts Magneto’s helmet to shame) as they try to record their new album in a remote cabin.
Michael Fassbender does nothing to the grain (he can’t shave) as Frank Sidebottom imitator Frank in his latest film… Frank. But ‘what goes on inside the head inside that head?’
Stuck in suburbia and going nowhere (except for perhaps the Best Hashtag Awards) Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) lands his musical break after witnessing the keyboardist of an unpronounceable band attempt to drown his sorrows in the ocean. A bit of a tinkler himself, Jon offers to fill in for the gig that evening. Much to the chagrin of sulking synth-player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) the band’s enthusiastic leader, Frank, extends Jon an invitation to join them them in recording their first album. He accepts. Things get strange.
Being about a band, it’s needless to say that Frank is full of music. Most of the jam sessions have an extreme Mighty Boosh vibe, as Frank loons about humping the air and re-genning the sound of a man cutting himself while shaving through itself in his tireless quest to find a fresh sound. Considering you don’t see the man’s face Michael Fassbender gives an excellent performance, exuberantly conveying pained genius and vulnerability though his staccato body language. Don’t worry if you don’t pick up on these vibes, however, because he has a habit of explaining his expressions to his band members: ‘Non-threatening grin’. Domhnall Gleeson does vapid imbecility with skill, donning tweed to enhance his artistic authenticity, and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Sid Vicious-alike Clara is an impressively cynical creation.
Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is very funny, yet it also presents some thought provoking concepts. Why exactly script writer Jon Ronson (author of The Men Who Stare at Goats) chose deceased Mancunian TV host and variety performer Frank Sidebottom as the figurehead for his film is anyone’s guess, but it was a fantastic idea. Frank’s Frank mask is an overt metaphor for the state of the creative soul of humanity in the technological age; with internet access, anyone can find out anything. Social media – Twitter especially – is steadily erasing the line that used to exist between the private life of an artist and their public persona. How can you make your work exciting when everyone knows everything about you? Well, wearing a giant papier mache head and spending 11 months in the Irish countryside perfecting a new genre of music is certainly one way to do it.
Some sombre developments in the final half hour really drag down what up until then was an uproarious – yet nonetheless poignant – film, but Frank is still brilliant. It is also unique in that it has something for everyone; never before has this reviewer been in a screening where the audience’s laughter came at such disparate moments. One final thing: In Filth, (starring Fassbender’s X-Men co-star James McAvoy) Bruce Robertson is a fervid Frank Sidebottom impressionist, which must mean that he and Fassbender’s Frank will have met at Sidebottom conventions on numerous occasions. It must do.