Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writers: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan
Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Michael Fassbender
Release date: May 9th, 2014
Distributors: Element Pictures, Magnolia Pictures
Countries: Ireland, UK
Running time: 95 minutes
Best part: Fassbender’s manic performance.
Worst part: Gyllenhaal’s lacklustre character.
Some movies, whether they deliver momentous scores or pop songs designed to sell albums, use music to accelerate their effect. Blaring through each cinema’s sound system, a song, or even an entire compilation, can worm its way into our heads. British indie dramedy Frank utilises this concept to build upon its funky and potent core. Accentuated by out-there performances and manic directorial ticks, Frank delivers a fun, insightful, and momentous insight into music’s effect on human beings.
Screening for festival fanatics and steely critics at this year’s South by Southwest festival, Frank had a high note to reach to impress these auspicious crowds. Sweeping through the circuit, this dramedy throws caution to the wind whilst its characters try to conquer their burgeoning issues. Pressing against typical festival-dramedy tropes, the movie’s inner-peace is repeatedly disrupted. The narrative, when not looking into an ever-so-slightly unhinged trajectory, follows the mediocre existence of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson). This struggling keyboard player/songwriter, stuck in a depressing office space, dreams of hastily escaping his tragic existence. Everyday, Jon draws up the soundtrack to his monotonous life. Taking inspiration from the most mundane of occurrences, Jon’s life halts when he witnesses a man trying to drown himself. The man, keyboarder for popular grunge group ‘Soronprfbs’, is deemed unworthy of future gigs by the band’s eccentric manager Don (Scoot McNairy). Invited to play at their next gig, Jon watches on as the group crashes and burns on stage. However, Jon, invited to their cosy recording-studio abode, draws inspiration from misanthropic percussionist Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and electrifying lead singer/songwriter Frank (Michael Fassbender).
The word ‘predictable’ doesn’t belong in any context, or review, of this peculiar romp. Over several weeks, Jon learns from everything he sees and each bizarre personality he runs into. In each scene, little surprises and jokes reside to amp-up this already impressionistic creation. Working with a creative screenplay and boisterous cast, director Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did) takes aim at Ireland’s ever-lasting cultural stamp, the world’s music scenes, and genre clichés. Here, Abrahamson looks to his bubbly characters for ideas. Looking through the pages of this enjoyable material, his bright direction searches for and develops eye-catching gems. For the most part, Frank sticks to its promises by staging itself in affable and quaint locations. Stuck together in the recording studio, the drama relies on discomforting personalities and interesting ideas. The brightest moments revolve around the band’s quaint jam sessions. By using epiphanies and spiritual practices, this eclectic bunch seeks to conquer the alternative-rock game. Pushing past everyone around him, Frank – wearing a large, paper-mache head – holds his group together with charm and everlasting appeal. Without turning conflicts into melodramatic exchanges, the narrative takes several sharp and mood-altering turns towards darkness and disparity. Punishing its opportunistic new keyboard player, the group’s antics keep Frank above similar fare. Heading to SXSW itself, the movie’s fish-out-of-water-esque humour throws our ensemble into the heart of pop-culture. Aided by Twitter and Instagram, Jon’s social media coverage may draw a line between the band and its comforting surroundings.
“You play C, F, G?” (Frank (Michael Fassbender), Frank).
Playing off revelatory music-dramedies like Almost Famous and This is Spinal Tap, as well as renowned TV personality Frank Sidebottom, Frank examines music’s affect on pop-culture and social quarrels. Experimenting with varying tools and sounds, Frank’s recording techniques are peppered throughout joyous montages. Alarmingly, pushing its characters to breaking point, the movie delivers an insightful commentary on philosophy and mental health. Blaming one another’s questionable antics, its characters test one another without being condescending or complacent. In the final third, as Frank’s intentions become clear, we see the downfall of a potential genius. Jon and Frank, as their bromance reaches a crux, reflect upon music, life, and escapism. Describing each other’s facial expressions, their alluring mannerisms lend heart and brawn to this ear-drum-strumming farce. Unexpectedly, Jon’s confidence-fuelled efforts do more harm than good. Drawing fame and fortune towards this quirky group, Frank’s personality becomes increasingly unpredictable and concerning. Credit goes to Fassbender for bringing a charismatic glow to this difficult role. Suited to blockbuster fare, Fassbender, like his character, reaches outside the box to deliver extraordinary quirks. In addition, soon after his heartbreaking performance in About Time, Gleeson delivers a likeable turn as the audience avatar and the group’s most opportunistic member. Made whole by Gleeson’s whimsical accent, his charm and wide-eyed glory ground this abstract feature. However, despite her best efforts, Gyllenhaal fails to overcome her nasty character. Thankfully, at opportune moments, McNairy comes along to lighten the darkest moments and deliver genuine thrills.
Similarly to Fassbender’s performance, Frank is an engrossing, enlightening, and intelligent commentary about the world around us. With music being Frank’s guiding light, the movie maintains its optimistic glow and heartening motifs throughout. Looking for new sounds and compilations, the band reflects the movie’s will to succeed by looking beyond the norm.