So, Frank is a film that is loosely based on, not a biopic of, Frank Sidebottom, with elements of Jon Ronson’s book about Frank Sidebottom’s band, and how nobody knew his true identity beneath the giant head he wore. This is based on that in the simple fact that; (1) There’s a band. (2) There’s a guy in a giant head. (3) Jon Ronson, who wrote the book about the Frank Sidebottom stuff, also co-wrote the screenplay to this film. Now, I’m in the dark when it comes to the material in which this film takes some of its ideas, so I don’t know a great deal of what is, or isn’t, taken from Ronson’s book, or Sidebottom’s history. For me, with this film, it was all about going in blind and watching the movie as if it were a stand-alone film, based on nothing, about a weird little band with a frontman who wears a giant head that he never removes. Okay, so that’s where I am, and I will begin by saying that you don’t need to know anything about the background or inspirations to this film to fully enjoy it and become immersed in it, because I did, and I was.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did) and with a screenplay penned by both Ronson, and Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), Frank is an unusual film, and one that goes beyond quirk and eccentricity. Frank (the guy with the giant papier-mâché head) is the lead singer for the unpronounceable band Soronprfbs, he never takes said-head off, and his band have never seen him without it. When Jon, a wannabe musician, comes across the band when he’s eating a Panini at the side of a beach, his life takes an erratic change as he becomes the keyboard played for Soronprfbs and, along with Frank and the rest of his band, take to a cabin in the countryside to write and record their new album. Little did Jon know, prior to agreeing to be a part of things, that they would be at the cabin for months and his life would become an unpredictable concoction of music, arguments, bizarre experimental sound recording and parting with much of his savings to help support the whole experience. Running into frustrating convolution and eventually deeper difficulties with each of the band members, Jon attempts to help Soronprfbs reach a wider audience, to varying success.
It’s such an outlandish film, but not in a sense of pure surrealism. The idea of a lead singer who wears a giant head for the duration of the film is one thing, but it’s the odd relationship between Frank, and his other band members, specifically the volatile and somewhat peculiar Theremin player, Clara, that take the film to another level of uniqueness. The cast all throw themselves into their characters feet-first and it feels like these weird and unique people are really on the fringe, living life in their own way and refusing to even become curious about what is regular, normal or acceptable in the eyes of the ordinary. Jon is almost like us, he comes from the outside and witnesses this bizarre group of individuals, how they interact, and what they are all about. It’s funny, crazy and at times moving, and further proof of why Abrahamson is a director to watch.
Jon, our eyes and ears in the story, is played by Domhnall Gleeson (About Time) and he does a fantastic job here. He’s naïve, struggling with his lack of inner-demons, and that kind-of-normal that wishes he wasn’t, and he plays the character with verve and a delicate energy that really puts him in a short list of young actors who I always enjoy watching. Frank, the focal point, the giant head, is played by Michael Fassbender (Shame), and the body acting from Fassbender is astonishing. Using his hands, his movements, and his voice, Fassbender brings the inanimate-faced Frank to life, and shows why he is one of the best working actors today, in my view. Just a performance filled with tragic depth and humour, which stood out, along with Gleeson’s, as the film’s best. Clara, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (Secretary), is a tortured soul and Frank’s kindred spirit, his protector, his support-system, and with her gusts of violent apathy towards newcomer, Jon, she adds a lot to the film, and delivers her best performance in a number of years to boot. With François Civil (Elles) as the mostly-silent French bass player, Baraque, and Carla Azar as the drummer, Nana, the band are a variety, that’s for sure, and they are a lot of fun to watch in their interactions. Finally, Scoot McNairy (Argo) as the bands manager, Don, is an amusing character with a darker backstory, and one which is looked at during the film. I was incredibly impressed with this cast, and how they worked together to create a remarkable film.
A movie, that on its surface deals with music and the difficulties with credibility and moving past artistic freedom in order to become accessible, but underneath lays a story of self-acceptance, dealing with the mundane, and finding your way. It’s told with a dark and weird sense of humour that may not appeal to everyone, but like the band themselves, it’s a piece of work that doesn’t intend, or expect, to appeal to every single person, but rather expresses itself and waits for the opinions to fly. I had fun with it, and it exceeded my expectations. I knew very little, next to nothing in fact, of the information in which the film takes some of its ideas, but that didn’t matter. I recommend this, for sure.
The Blu-ray release, from Curzon, is crystal clear in both sound and vision, and features a few special features, including behind the scenes footage, and interviews.