A delicate blend of comedy and intense drama, Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank toys with the bounds of surrealism whilst creating a powerfully moving outlook on the human condition.
Inspired by Jon Ronson’s memoirs of his time as a keyboardist in Frank Sidebottom’s Oh Blimey Big Band, Frank’s fictionalized script – co-written by Ronson himself – follows Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) as he attempts to find his footing in an obscure band lead by the mysterious Frank (Michael Fassbender).
The film opens on a calm note that, much like it’s quiet setting in a small English coastal town, is nothing out of the ordinary. But for anyone who came into the film blindly, all doubts over its tone are quickly revoked when Jon replaces the band’s former keyboardist who is sectioned having attempted to drown himself in the sea.
After scarcely having a chance to blink, the film transports it’s audience into Frank’s world as he settles with his band in the remote Irish countryside to begin work on his latest album.
Guiding us through this maze of absurdity is Jon – the closest to ‘normal’ the film gets – who reacts to his fellow band members with the same sense of bewilderment and wonder felt by the audience. Meanwhile, he keeps the outside world in the loop through a string of Twitter posts and YouTube uploads.
The music, courtesy of Frank who can “find inspiration from anything,” is every bit as strange as its creators. Rather than simply using instruments – because that would be far too mainstream – the band depends upon a collection of household objects for its unique musical tones.
No doubt it is Michael Fassbender who has the biggest challenge on his hands. With his cartoon-like head frozen in a single emotion, Frank instead resorts to describing his facial expressions. But true to form, Fassbender’s charisma shines through as he relies on a range of vibrant body movements to convey Frank’s colourful personality. Yet despite this stunning performance, Domhnall Gleeson never allows himself to be overshadowed, excelling as the down-on-his-luck wannabe songwriter, thrown into the whirlpool that is the Soronprfbs. Maggie Gyllenhaal also gravitates a lot of attention towards her impressive performance as the aggressive, foul-mouthed Clara and Scoot McNairy slots perfectly into his role as troubled band member, Don, who turns out to be the only one making a real effort to help Jon adapt to his bizarre new surroundings.
Although the central performances levitate the film to a high standard, a lot of credit is owed to Jon Ronson’s and Peter Straughan’s beautiful script alongside Lenny Abrahamson’s intelligent direction. Whilst the naïve readers of Jon’s blog label the band members – mainly Frank and Clara – as “freaks”, we are shown the real humans behind the façade. Behind Clara’s tough persona is a devoted woman desperate to shelter Frank. Meanwhile, it dawns on the audience that Frank’s musical talent will always be hindered by his mental illness.
Frank ultimately forces us to view the world through someone else’s eyes and question what we define as ‘normal’. Jon asks Frank why he wears his Paper-Mache head, to which he conveys his belief that human faces are weird – and who are we to say that either is wrong?
Taking a film of this concept, it would be easy for it to be reduced to a mere quirky indie flick but, thankfully, due to its expertly well-rounded characters and tragic undertones, it becomes so much more than that.
As the film spirals towards its conclusion, you have become so accustomed to the deeply humanized characters and the mad world they inhabit that they almost feel like family. From then on, any emotional torment they suffer hits you like a blow to the head!
At times Frank does venture too far into the surreal. However, if you are willing to open your mind a little and appreciate this rare and remarkable piece of filmmaking, you may just embrace its wonderful weirdness.