Whimsical, quirky and sometimes just downright weird, “Frank” is a delightfully offbeat comedy drama from Irish director Lenny Abrahamson. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy, it tells the story of fictional band ‘Soronprfbs’ and their enigmatic lead singer Frank.
When Jon, an earnest young call centre worker with a passion for music gets a chance to cover for the keyboard player of Soronprfbs, he jumps at the chance. No sooner has he joined the deeply eccentric and dysfunctional group than they decamp to a bucolic cabin in Ireland to record a new album and work on perfecting their new sound. As Jon charts their meandering progress on YouTube and Twitter, they build up a cult following and are offered the chance to appear at the South by Southwest Festival, an appearance that has the potential to propel the band into the big-time.
Very loosely based on Chris Sievey’s iconic British character Frank Sidebottom, “Frank” is an oddball satirical swipe at art, the music industry, fame and the creative process itself. Written by Jon Ronson, who was park of Sidebottom’s band, this is a mostly fictionalised adaptation of his experiences and memories. Funny and heartfelt, the film benefits enormously from its fantastic cast. Of course, Michael Fassbender immediately grabs your attention thanks to the iconic papier-mâché head and it’s a testament to his performance that he manages to create a complex, compelling and human character despite the comically expressionless façade. It’s even more incredible that Frank is by no means the weirdest character in the film. Maggie Gyllenhaal excels as Clara, Frank’s unbalanced and aggressive would-be soul mate while the band is rounded out by François Civil as the taciturn Baraque and Carla Azar as the silent but watchful Nana. Scoot McNairy brings a lackadaisical longing to Don, the band’s tour manager and devoted fan of Frank while Domnhall Gleeson holds the whole thing together, providing us with a welcome anchor and a baffled hero we can identify with. As he navigates the increasingly strange world of Frank’s surreally avant-garde music, he starts to gains confidence and Frank’s trust. We all get to revel in Frank’s world, where he creates sound and music for the sheer joy of it, but as Jon is seduced by Frank’s joyfulness, Jon’s ambition for fame and fortune begins to corrupt Frank.
“Frank” is a uniquely peculiar, unpredictable comedy with idiosyncratic characters and a witty, off the wall script brought to life by a sparky, gleefully unrestrained cast. Avoiding the easy and obvious comedy of a character wearing a ridiculous mask, it’s a tender, affectionate and engrossing study of a damaged man struggling with his passions and his demons. It’s not going to pack out the multiplexes on a Friday night, but it’s a little slice of very British eccentricity amongst the blockbusters and crude comedies that’s well worth seeking out if you can find a screening near you.