Frank is nowhere near as weird as your initial idea of it might be. Once you can get past Michael Fassbender wearing a paper-mache head throughout the film, it’s oddly pretty ordinary. It’s a film made for artists more than it the general audience. Only an artist can know the pain that comes along with trying to make it in show business. Creating art, or anything for that matter, and sharing it with the world can be a painful process that not everyone can appreciate.
I actually enjoyed Frank quite a bit. The film centers on Jon Burroughs played by Domhnall Gleeson, an ordinary Brit who happens to play keyboard. By chance, his vanilla life is thrown for a whirlwind after running into Don (Scoot McNairy), the manager of Frank’s eccentric indie band, Soronprfbs. Frank quickly accepts Jon in as the band’s new keyboard player. Soon they are off to a remote cabin in the wilderness to record their album.
Problems exist within the band from day one, and a lot of it centers on Clara’s (Maggie Gyllenhaal) disdain for Jon (Domhnall Gleeson). Maggie Gyllenhaal, I’ve found, is very good at playing an unlikeable character. No exception here. Unbeknownst to the band, Jon has been documenting the band’s recording of their album and posting the videos on YouTube. This brings into play the question of what it takes to be famous, and what would you be willing to do to get there? It also put social media into the discussion as there are several scenes that keep up with Jon’s Twitter account as he attempts to lock in a gig at the SXSW music festival.
I especially enjoy the Behind-the-Music-esque look at what a band might go through in order to create an album. Not to mention a band like this one where everyone seems to be dealing with a form of mental illness and the band leader, Frank, never takes his bug-eyed mask off. Underneath that paper-mache head Michael Fassbender is putting on the most charming performance of his career. That’s saying a lot for a dude that exudes charisma. For a normally very dramatic actor, he seems like he’s having an awful lot of fun.
The acting in the film is great all around, but Gleeson and Fassbender sharing the screen makes it that much more of a delight. At times, the film is all over the place with several different tones and themes coming into play. Frank gets pretty dark at times, but it’s also silly. Luckily, it has a great cast and it’s light-hearted enough to brush past any lulls or really heavy subject matter in the story.
I give director Lenny Abrahamson a lot of credit for filming Frank in such a way that you can sometimes feel the expressions of an expressionless face. I doubt Michael Fassbender can see much of anything with that head on, but they still seem to capture him looking in a certain direction where he emotes some sort of feeling. It’s eerie at times, but then you hear Frank talk and he makes everything better. Saying his facial expression out loud is an added bonus. All the while, as an audience member, you know that whatever is going on under all of that cannot possibly be as pulled together as it seems.
The Good: The actors in the film are actually playing the music in the band. It might not be the kind of music for everyone, but you have to appreciate the authenticity that brings to the film. Showing a lot of the song-writing process was refreshing. It was especially nice to see someone like Jon who seems to over-think the writing process, while Frank can basically bust a freestyle and have a hit song about gibberish within a minute of time. Frank’s “most likeable song ever” makes me happier than you could possibly imagine.
The Weird: I know what it’s like to want to be heard, but not seen. I’ve always created art in some way, but sharing it with everyone has always been hard to do. You know you have a notebook full of poetry under your bed somewhere. In that way, I think we can all relate to Frank.
The Ugly: Mental illness, especially untreated, is pretty ugly. Remember, self-medicating with a giant mask is never the answer.