Monday, August 25, 2014

A Reel Review: FRANK

In the early 1980’s, an English musician and comedian by the name of Christopher Sievey created a comic persona called Frank Sidebottom, which consisted of Sievey wearing a large paper-mache head with a 1950’s-style suit on stage while fronting a band. This so-bizarre-it-has-to-be-true story is the inspiration for director Lenny Abrahamson’s FRANK.
Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), is a struggling musician who falls into a bizarre band led by the eccentric Frank (Michael Fassbender), a talented musician who constantly wears a giant head/mask, and the manager Don (Scoot McNairy). Finding inspiration, Jon tries to take the band to new places despite the misgivings of band-member Clara (Maggie Gyllenhall).

Simply put, FRANK is a weird movie. It is filled with eccentric and bizarre characters who live in their own world making music with very little structure and as far away from conventional as Mars; topped off by a guy who wears a giant goofy head all the time and behaves in a way that matches it. To make all this work on film, director Lenny Abrahamson puts into play the age-old plot device of bringing a newcomer into this wacked-out world (Jon), so the audience can experience it through his eyes. With that in place, the movie becomes more about Jon’s journey than Frank, and it works well because Frank is just too much off-the-wall to be a character anyone can relate to. Jon becomes the heart and soul of the film while Frank acts as divine inspiration; in the early goings he is a struggling musician used to structure and order, and by meeting Frank and his free-minded band of musicians, he finds his inner voice and it makes for a great cinematic journey.

Director Lenny Abrahamson makes significant changes to the real-life story; so many that it’s fair to say FRANK is only loosely based on Sievey’s comic character. For starters, Abrahamson takes the storyline out of the 1970’s and into the modern era. This works very well as it allows him to explore Jon’s thoughts through his blogging and usage of social media. It’s an exploration of a man’s thought-process when he struggles with creativity, and also makes a statement of social media’s impact, power, and faults. Abrahamson also makes excellent use out of his star’s face being covered by the big dumb-looking head. It makes for some great comic moments, especially when Frank announces out loud what expression his face is carrying.

Acting is a gem all the way through. Michael Fassbender obviously does the most, and best work. His accent is buried, and his body language is perfect in selling the character…and who knew he could sing and be so funny? Maggie Gyllenhaal is the fire-breathing dragon of the film who constantly confronts Jon on everything he does, and she has never been this ferocious in a film before. Domhnall Gleeson (son of acclaimed actor Brendan Gleeson) is superb and never gets lost in a film with such power from Fassbender and Gyllenhall. Scoot McNairy is a little underused but make the most of his time.

The reasons why Frank wears the stupid head-thing are a tight secret until the very end, which makes for a decent “ah-ha!” moment once things are revealed and understood…and it’s clear that FRANK is all about the bastard which is creativity and how it can be overcome. Some people may walk away from FRANK scratching their heads, but anyone who has ever struggled to create or to find their true inner-selves will be rewarded greatly.


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