Frank is an unsettling little movie. It’s a little depressing, very quirky, and nothing ever feels quite right about it. As soon as its titular — but not leading — character shows up, you know something’s off. It takes a while to figure out exactly what, and when you do you’re not going to feel happy afterward. With that said, Frank is a very good movie, and if it sounds like something that will interest you, it’s worth checking out.
Our lead is Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a wannabe musician who, after being in the right place at the right time is offered a chance to join an indie band, Soronprfbs, on-stage for a live performances. After the performance, he’s offered a full-time gig, as the member of the band he’s replacing kind of went off the deep end. Almost literally, in fact; he tried to drown himself in the ocean. The band heads to the country to record an album, and this is where the majority of the film takes place. Oh, and I should mention that the band’s leader and lead singer, Frank (Michael Fassbender), wears a Frank Sidebottom-esque papier-mâché head at all times.
You can tell as soon as Frank shows up that the film is a little bit weird. The band’s sound is anything but conventional, each of the other actors in the band — Scoot McNairy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, François Civil, and Carla Azar — tend to lean toward the “crazy” side of the scale, and there’s an undercurrent of melancholia present throughout. By the time we get to the film’s conclusion, reveals are made that make sense but don’t help the feeling of unease you’re going to feel.
Yeah, Frank isn’t really about this band and it recording an album. It’s about a group of less-than-stable individuals coming together and finding solace in one another. And that’s … not the easiest thing to watch. It just isn’t. There’s not a great deal of fun to be had, moods can swing at a moment’s notice, character motivations often don’t make a whole lot of sense, and tensions can rise and fall at the drop of a hat. One scene has a couple of characters fighting, and then the next second, they’re relaxing together in a hot tub.
There are points when Frank is funny. Truthful, but also funny. Throughout the film, social media — YouTube and Twitter — is frequently mentioned or shown. Jon tweets about the band’s status and uploads videos showing some of the crazy things they do. That, in and of itself, is used humorously. When the band eventually heads to SXSW to perform a live show, it creates a few even funnier moments. And also some humbling ones.
The truth to the film helps it be relatable. The premise initially seems pretty silly, I think. How are you supposed to relate to eccentric characters, one of whom refuses to take off a giant papier-mâché head? But you can. There’s enough reality in the characters to keep them feel like, yes, there’s a chance they’re real. And when you have real characters in a movie you are allowed to be shown insight into how people work, act, function, and relate to one another. That’s where Frank shows its strength. It draws you in with quirkiness and leaves you thinking about life and the people around you.
I don’t know how many actors would volunteer to act with a papier-mâché head on, thus limiting their performance as the audience won’t be able to see their face, but Michael Fassbender does it here and does it well. You can’t see if it’s him under the mask at all times — and maybe it’s not — but the work he does just with his voice (and body language, if it is in fact him) is just fantastic. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character is a little bit one-note, but once revealed why it makes her performance stand out. Domhnall Gleeson works as a dependable lead and a good point from which to view the insanity of Soronprfbs. And Frank.
Frank is not an easy watch. Its subjects are individuals who are not the most stable of people, and that means that you’re often in for dark or confusing times. But it’s a truthful film, especially once you get past its eccentric gimmick of having its biggest actor stuck inside of a papier-mâché head. This is a good movie, one that will make you laugh and then think about life and the people within it.