When I saw its trailer several months ago, I wondered whether “Frank” could work, but it turns out to be better than I expected. While its distant, enigmatic title character and other oddball characters surely draw our attention, the movie does more than merely being odd; it has a story to engage and amuse us, and, despite several noticeable shortcomings, the story mostly works thank to its good actors ready for challenge.
At the beginning, we meet Jon Burroughs(Domhnall Gleeson), a young man who has been dreaming of making a music career but has been stuck in his boring daily job instead. While he still struggles to find his own creative voice without much success, Jon hopes for a good chance to initiate his career, and he gets his wish on one day. He comes across a music band named Soronprfbs(please don’t ask me how to pronounce it), and he promptly becomes the band’s temporary keyboard player because its former keyboard player happens to have a suicidal mental breakdown for some reason.
Jon goes to a town bar where the band is going to perform during that evening, and that is how he meets its band leader Frank(Michael Fassbender) for the first time. Regardless of whether he is performing or not, Frank always wears a big, round papier-mâché head, and he never takes off that head just because he does not want to reveal his real face to others. I know many of you will naturally wonder about how this guy can go through daily life while wearing that head all the time, but the movie does not go into specific details while giving some answers to our curiosity(did he ever wash his face or hair, I wonder?).
Anyway, Jon immediately joins the band when he is asked to fill the position of keyboard player, and he and Frank and the other band members go to a cabin located in some remote rural area of Ireland for the recording their album. They record various weird sounds to be used for their music during the first days, and then they move on to the next step, but it becomes apparent that they are going nowhere in their, uh, creative process. I am virtually deaf to rock music, but, boy, their avant-garde alternative music coupled with a singing style a la Jim Morrison does not sound very good even to me, though their performance itself is rather amusing to watch at least.
While privately recording his daily experience through his blog and twitter account, Jon comes to find himself being the only normal person in this nutty band. As Frank keeps being dissatisfied with his music despite their full effort, they always go back to where they started everyday, and the other band members do not help this frustrating situation a lot. Clara(Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is apparently in love with Frank, does not welcome the growing relationship between Frank and Jon, and their pathetic band manager Don(Scoot McNairy) turns out be more ineffectual than expected(seriously, I have no idea on how their band has been somehow maintained in spite of this bumbling guy).
Focusing on the dynamics between its eccentric characters, the movie brings out many of its best moments, and the actors in the film did a convincing job of inhabiting their characters. Frank is surely a challenging character to play from the beginning, but Michael Fassbender, a talented actor who has kept impressing us with his excellent acting during recent years, gives an exceptional performance as a damaged man desperately distancing himself from others, and we come to accept and believe his character even though we do not often see how exactly Frank feels inside his papier-mâché head. While he is clearly suffering from some sort of mental illness, this gifted guy is happy to write and perform his music, and Fassbender effectively conveys his character’s excited state to us through his wonderful physical performance, which deserves to be compared to John Hurt’s equally challenging performance in “The Elephant Man”(1980).
While Scoot McNairy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, François Civil, and Carla Azar bring additional eccentricities into the film as Frank’s band members, Domhnall Gleeson is also engaging as the only sensible main character in the film who functions as our viewpoint to the story. As gradually taking a different direction for him later in the story, Jon comes to believe that the band also should take a different route for moving on, and then there comes a good opportunity for that. The band becomes a little more famous than before thank to Jon’s YouTube clips, and Jon and the other band members are invited to the SXSW music festival to be held in Austin, Texas.
What eventually happens at the festival will not particularly surprise you. Frank manages to come to Austin with others(I am really curious about how the hell he went through airport customs), but he becomes increasingly agitated for a good reason. Sure, their first mainstream appearance may be good for his band, but this can be too much for a guy who has been hiding from others.
The screenplay by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan takes a predictable turn after that point, and a certain revelation scene around the ending is rather disappointing(I don’t dare to tell you why), but “Frank” has more hits than misses on the whole while generating its own charm to entertain us. The director Lenny Abrahamson maintains its offbeat spirit well throughout his film, and I cared enough about its story even though the movie becomes far less interesting during its last 20 minutes. This is a whimsey film which could have pushed its funny premise more, but it manages to find a balancing point between humor and pathos from its main character, and Fassbender’ performance is something you cannot forget easily.